Posts for: December, 2018
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
If you’ve noticed some of your teeth seem to be “longer” than you remembered, it’s not because they’ve grown. Rather, your gums have shrunk back or receded to expose more of the underlying tooth.
It’s not just unattractive — gum recession could lead to severe consequences like bone or tooth loss. But before we begin treatment we need to find out why it happened. Knowing the true cause will help us put together the right treatment plan for your situation.
Here are 4 of the most common causes for gum recession and what we can do about them.
The kind of gum tissues you have. There are two kinds of risk factors: those you can control and those you can’t. Because you inherited the trait from your parents, your gum tissue thickness falls into the latter category. Although there are degrees within each, gum tissues are generally classified as either thick or thin. If you have thin tissues, you’re more susceptible to gum recession — which means we’ll need to be extra vigilant about caring for your gum health.
Tooth position. Normally a tooth erupts during childhood in the center of its bony housing. But it can erupt outside of it, often resulting in little to no gum tissue growth around it. The best solution is to move the tooth to a better position within the bony housing through orthodontics. This in turn could stimulate gum growth.
Over-aggressive brushing. Ironically, gum recession could be the result of brushing, one of the essential hygiene tasks for dental health. Consistently brushing too hard can inflame and tear the tissues to the point they begin to recede. Brushing doesn’t require a lot of force to remove plaque: use gentle, circular motions and let the detergents and mild abrasives in your toothpaste do the rest.
Periodontal (gum) disease. This, by far, is the greatest cause for gum recession: an infection caused by built-up bacterial plaque. The weakened tissues begin to detach from the teeth and recede. Gum disease can be treated with aggressive plaque removal and supporting techniques; but it’s also highly preventable. Practicing daily brushing and flossing and regularly visiting your dentist for thorough cleanings and checkups are the best practices for keeping your gums as healthy as possible.
If you would like more information on gum recession, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Gum Recession.”
Chronic pain can turn your life upside down. While there are a number of disorders that fit in this category, two of them—fibromyalgia and temporomandibular disorders (TMD)—can disrupt your quality of life to the extreme. And it may be the two conditions have more in common than similar symptoms—according to one study, three-fourths of patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia show symptoms of TMD.
To understand why this is, let’s take a closer look at these two conditions.
Fibromyalgia presents as widespread pain, aching or stiffness in the muscles and joints. Patients may also have general fatigue, sleep problems, mood swings or memory failures. TMD is a group of conditions that often result in pain and impairment of the temporomandibular joints that join the jaw with the skull. TMD can make normal activities like chewing, speaking or even yawning painful and difficult to do.
Researchers are now focusing on what may, if anything, connect these two conditions. Fibromyalgia is now believed to be an impairment of the central nervous system within the brain rather than a problem with individual nerves. One theory holds that the body has imbalances in its neurotransmitters, which interfere with the brain’s pain processing.
Researchers have also found fibromyalgia patients with TMD have an increased sensitivity overall than those without the conditions. In the end, it may be influenced by genetics as more women than men are prone to have either of the conditions.
Treating these conditions is a matter of management. Although invasive techniques like jaw surgery for TMD are possible, the results (which are permanent) have been inconclusive in their effectiveness for relieving pain. We usually recommend patients try more conservative means first to lessen pain and difficulties, including soft foods, physical therapy, stretching exercises and muscle relaxant medication. Since stress is a major factor in both conditions, learning and practicing relaxation techniques may also be beneficial.
In similar ways, these techniques plus medication or cognitive-behavioral therapy that may influence neurotransmission can also help relieve symptoms of fibromyalgia. Be sure then that you consult with both your physician and dentist caring for both these diseases for the right approach for you to help relieve the effects of these two debilitating conditions.
If you would like more information on managing TMD or fibromyalgia, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Fibromyalgia and Temporomandibular Disorders.”