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.”
We breathe every moment of every day and we’re hardly aware of it most of the time. But if you take the time to focus, you’ll find two possible pathways for your breath: through the nose or through the mouth.
While either pathway provides the air exchange needed to live, nose breathing offers better health benefits. Air passes through the nasal passages, which filter out many harmful particles and allergens. The mucous membranes in the nose also humidify the air and help produce heart-friendly nitric oxide.
Nose breathing also plays a role in your child’s facial and jaw development: the tongue rests on the roof of the mouth (the palate) and becomes a kind of mold around which the developing upper jaw can form. With chronic mouth breathing, however, the tongue rests just behind the lower teeth, depriving the upper jaw of its normal support. This could result in the development of a poor bite (malocclusion).
To avoid this and other undesirable outcomes, you should have your child examined if you notice them breathing mostly through the mouth, particularly at rest. Since chronic mouth breathing usually occurs because of an anatomical obstruction making nose breathing more difficult, it’s usually best to see a physician or an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist first for evaluation and treatment.
It’s also a good idea to obtain an orthodontic evaluation of any effects on their bite development, such as the upper jaw growing too narrowly. If caught early enough, an orthodontist can correct this with a palatal expander, a device that exerts gradual outward pressure on the jaw and stimulating it to grow wider.
Another bite problem associated with chronic mouth breathing is misalignment of the jaws when closed. An orthodontist can address this with a set of removable plates worn in the mouth. As the jaws work the angled plates force the lower jaw forward, thus encouraging it to grow in the direction that best aligns with the upper jaw.
Any efforts to correct a child’s breathing habits can pay great dividends in their overall health. It could likewise head off possible bite problems that can be both extensive and costly to treat in the future.
Fatigue, a “foggy” mind, and irritability are all signs you’re not getting enough sleep—and neither might your sleeping partner from your continuous snoring. You might have a common form of sleep-related breathing disorder (SRBD) known as obstructive sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea occurs when the airway becomes obstructed (usually by the tongue), resulting in a lack of oxygen. The body rouses from sleep just enough to correct the obstruction. This can occur and interrupt deep sleep several times a night, causing the aforementioned problems as well as personality changes, high blood pressure or increased stomach acid reflux. If the problem persists, sleep apnea could also become a long-term factor in the development of heart disease, diabetes or other serious conditions.
Fortunately, we can do something about it. While some may require more invasive intervention, most cases of sleep apnea can be alleviated through continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. In this therapy, an electrical pump supplies pressurized air into a face mask worn while sleeping. The increased air pressure helps to keep the airway open.
For some patients, however, CPAP can cause discomfort like claustrophobia, nasal congestion and dryness. If that’s a concern for you, you might want to consider an oral appliance provided by your dentist.
Customized to your own individual mouth contours, this appliance is usually a two-part hinged device that draws the lower jaw and the tongue forward to open the airway. Easily adjustable, these appliances are usually more comfortable to wear than a CPAP and don’t require electricity or have the attendant noise of a CPAP pump.
They do, however, have a few drawbacks: they can disrupt saliva flow, causing either too much or too little; they may result in some morning soreness; and they can stimulate unnecessary tooth or jaw movements. For most, though, these side effects are minor compared to a better night’s sleep.
If you suspect you may have some form of SRBD, you’ll need to have it confirmed through a physical examination and possibly sleep lab testing. If it is sleep apnea, your physician and dentist can work together to help you find the right therapy to regain the benefits of a good night’s sleep.
If you would like more information on sleep apnea, 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 “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry.”
Often as children grow older, their participation in sports or similar activities increases. While generally encouraged, this greater activity does increase injury risk, especially to the mouth.
In fact, the late childhood to early adulthood demographic is the most prone portion of the population to incur dental injuries. To complicate matters, their dental development is often incomplete, posing a number of treatment obstacles for an injured tooth.
For example, the primary means for preserving an injured adult tooth is a root canal treatment: damaged or diseased tissue within the pulp, the tooth’s innermost layer, is removed and the empty chamber and root canals filled and sealed to prevent infection. But while a fully matured tooth can function without the nerves and blood vessels of the pulp, a developing tooth needs these tissues for continued tooth formation. Otherwise, tooth development can stall and cause problems later on.
The most common solution for younger teeth is to remove any damaged tooth structure without disturbing the pulp if at all possible followed by a filling. That’s contingent, though, on whether we find the pulp unexposed or undamaged—if it is, we’ll try to remove only damaged or diseased pulp tissue and leave as much healthy tissue intact as possible. To aid with healing and tissue re-growth, we may also place medicinal stimulators between the pulp and the filling.
Jaw development may also pose a challenge if the injured tooth is too far gone and must be removed. Our best choice is to replace it with a dental implant; but if we install the implant while the jaw is still growing, it may eventually appear out of place with the rest of the teeth. It’s best to postpone an implant until full jaw maturity in early adulthood.
In the meantime we could provide a temporary solution like a removable partial denture or a modified bonded bridge that won’t permanently alter nearby teeth. These methods can adequately restore the function and appearance of missing teeth until the jaw is mature enough for an implant.
While injuries with young permanent teeth do pose extra challenges, we have effective ways to address them. With the right approach, the outcome can be just as successful as with a mature tooth.
If you would like more information on dental care in the formative years, 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 “Saving New Permanent Teeth after Injury.”
Some moviegoers have been known to crunch popcorn, bite their fingers or grab their neighbor’s hands during the intense scenes of a thriller. But for one fan, the on-screen action in the new superhero film Black Panther led to a different reaction.
Sophia Robb, an 18-year-old Californian, had to make an emergency visit to the orthodontic office because she snapped the steel wire on her retainer while watching a battle scene featuring her Hollywood crush, Michael B. Jordan. Her jaw-clenching mishap went viral and even prompted an unexpected reply from the actor himself!
Meanwhile, Sophia got her retainer fixed pronto—which was exactly the right thing to do. The retention phase is a very important part of orthodontic treatment: If you don’t wear a retainer, the beautiful new smile you’re enjoying could become crooked again. That’s because if the teeth are not held in their new positions, they will naturally begin to drift back into their former locations—and you may have to start treatment all over again…
While it’s much more common to lose a removable retainer than to damage one, it is possible for even sturdy retainers to wear out or break. This includes traditional plastic-and-wire types (also called Hawley retainers), clear plastic retainers that are molded to fit your teeth (sometimes called Essix retainers), and bonded retainers: the kind that consists of a wire that’s permanently attached to the back side of your teeth. So whichever kind you use, do what Sophia did if you feel that anything is amiss—have it looked at right away!
When Black Panther co-star Michael B. Jordan heard about the retainer mishap, he sent a message to the teen: “Since I feel partly responsible for breaking your retainers let me know if I can replace them.” His young fan was grateful for the offer—but even more thrilled to have a celebrity twitter follower.
If you have questions about orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers” and “Bonded Retainers.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.