This month marks the 20th annual observance of Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Last year, over 50,000 people in the US were diagnosed with oral cancer, and over 10,000 people died from the disease. The 5-year survival rate for oral cancer is only around 57%, making it more deadly than many other types of cancer. But if oral cancer is caught and treated early, the 5-year survival rate jumps to over 80%. This is one reason why regular dental checkups are so important—we can be your best ally in detecting oral cancer in its early stages.
Oral cancer is particularly dangerous because it often develops without pain or obvious symptoms. Early detection greatly improves the chances of successful treatment, but signs of the disease frequently go unnoticed until the cancer is advanced. Fortunately, dentists and dental hygienists are trained to recognize signs of oral cancer in the early stages, when it is most treatable. Oral cancer can appear on any surface of the mouth and throat, with the tongue being the most common site, particularly along the sides, followed by the floor of the mouth. As part of a regular dental exam, we examine these surfaces for even subtle signs of the disease.
Screenings performed at the dental office are the best way to detect oral cancer, but between dental visits it's a good idea to check your own mouth for any of the following: white or red patches, lumps, hard spots, spots that bleed easily or sores that don't heal. Let us know if any of these symptoms don't go away on their own within two or three weeks.
Using tobacco in any form is a major risk factor for oral cancer, especially in combination with alcohol consumption. Although the majority of people diagnosed with oral cancer are over age 55, the fastest growing segment of new diagnoses are among young people due to the rise in cases of sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) in young adults.
A routine dental visit can do much more than preventing and treating tooth decay and gum disease—it might even save your life! If you have questions about oral cancer or are concerned about possible symptoms, call us as soon as possible to schedule an appointment for a consultation.
Tooth replacement at any age is a challenge, but especially for teenagers. Dental implants in particular may not be possible yet for teens or young adults whose jaws are still developing. Because it’s imbedded directly into bone, the implant will not move with the jaw as jaw growth occurs, making it look potentially unattractive.
The best solution could be a temporary replacement until their jaw reaches maturity. One such option is a removable partial denture (RPD), an artificial tooth set in an acrylic base that resembles gum tissue. Although we associate dentures with older adults, an RPD works well for teens as a temporary measure. Perhaps the best version for a younger person utilizes metal clips that fit over adjacent teeth and hold the RPD in place. Although quite resilient, the wearer needs to be careful when biting into something hard (like an apple or similar firm fruit) or the artificial tooth may break off.
Another option, a bonded bridge, is a fixed solution similar to a traditional bridge. Whereas a traditional bridge is supported by crowns affixed to the teeth on either side of the empty socket (and requiring extensive alteration of the teeth to accommodate them), a bonded bridge attaches to the supporting teeth with wing-like projections of dental material that attaches to the backs of the adjacent teeth, hidden from view. Although not as secure as a traditional bridge, they can conceivably endure until the teen’s jaw structure is ready for an implant or other permanent solution.
Choosing between an RPD and a bonded bridge will depend on a number of factors, including the teen’s individual bite, clenching or biting habits and the health and strength of supporting bone and gums. Regardless of the type of solution chosen, it’s important to maintain good oral hygiene, especially around a bridge. If bacterial plaque is allowed to build up on tooth surfaces, it could result in an infection that can damage both gums and bone, and reduce the chances of a successful implant in the future.
All these and other considerations should be discussed after a thorough examination. From there, we can advise you on the best course of action to restore both appearance and function until it’s time for a permanent restoration.
Sometimes it seems that appearances count for everything—especially in Hollywood. But just recently, Lonnie Chaviz, the 10-year-old actor who plays young Randall on the hit TV show This Is Us, delivered a powerful message about accepting differences in body image. And the whole issue was triggered by negative social media comments about his smile.
Lonnie has a noticeable diastema—that is, a gap between his two front teeth; this condition is commonly seen in children, but is less common in adults. There are plenty of celebrities who aren’t bothered by the excess space between their front teeth, such as Michael Strahan, Lauren Hutton and Vanessa Paradis. However, there are also many people who choose to close the gap for cosmetic or functional reasons.
Unfortunately, Lonnie had been on the receiving end of unkind comments about the appearance of his smile. But instead of getting angry, the young actor posted a thoughtful reply via Instagram video, in which he said: “I could get my gap fixed. Braces can fix this, but like, can you fix your heart, though?”
Lonnie is raising an important point: Making fun of how someone looks shows a terrible lack of compassion. Besides, each person’s smile is uniquely their own, and getting it “fixed” is a matter of personal choice. It’s true that in most circumstances, if the gap between the front teeth doesn’t shrink as you age and you decide you want to close it, orthodontic appliances like braces can do the job. Sometimes, a too-big gap can make it more difficult to eat and to pronounce some words. In other situations, it’s simply a question of aesthetics—some like it; others would prefer to live without it.
There’s a flip side to this issue as well. When teeth need to be replaced, many people opt to have their smile restored just the way it was, rather than in some “ideal” manner. That could mean that their dentures are specially fabricated with a space between the front teeth, or the crowns of their dental implants are spaced farther apart than they normally would be. For these folks, the “imperfection” is so much a part of their unique identity that changing it just seems wrong.
So if you’re satisfied with the way your smile looks, all you need to do is keep up with daily brushing and flossing, and come in for regular checkups and cleanings to keep it healthy and bright. If you’re unsatisfied, ask us how we could help make it better. And if you need tooth replacement, be sure to talk to us about all of your options—teeth that are regular and “Hollywood white;” teeth that are natural-looking, with minor variations in color and spacing; and teeth that look just like the smile you’ve always had.
Because when it comes to your smile, we couldn’t agree more with what Lonnie Chaviz said at the end of his video: “Be who you want to be. Do what you want to do. Do you. Be you. Believe in yourself.”
If you have questions about cosmetic dentistry, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Beautiful Smiles by Design” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
If you have a problem tooth we’ve recommended removing, those “Tooth in one day” ads—a tooth removed and an implant placed at the same time—might start to pique your interest. But there are a few factors we must consider first to determine if this procedure is right for you. Depending on your mouth’s health conditions, you may need to wait a little while between tooth extraction and implantation.
Here are 3 timing scenarios for receiving your implant after tooth removal, depending on your oral health.
Immediately. The “tooth in one day” scenario can be much to your liking, but it could also be tricky in achieving the best results. For one, the implant may fit too loosely—the bone around the socket might first need to heal and fill in or undergo grafting to stimulate regeneration. In other words, immediate implant placement usually requires enough supporting bone and an intact socket. Bone grafting around the implant is usually needed as well.
After gum healing. Sufficient gum coverage is also necessary for a successful outcome even if the bone appears adequate. To guard against gum shrinkage that could unattractively expose too much of the implant, we may need to delay implant placement for about 4 to 8 weeks to allow sufficient gum healing and sealing of the extraction wound. Allowing the gums to heal can help ensure there’s enough gum tissue to cover and protect the implant once it’s placed.
After bone healing. As we’ve implied, implants need an adequate amount of supporting bone for best results. When there isn’t enough, we might place a bone graft (often immediately after tooth extraction) that will serve as a scaffold for new bone to grow upon. Depending on the degree of bone loss, we may wait until some of the bone has regenerated (about 2 to 4 months) and then allow the natural process of bone cells growing and adhering to the implant (osseointegration) to complete the needed bone growth. If bone loss is extensive, we may need to wait until full healing in 4 to 6 months to encourage the most stable outcome.
If you would like more information on the process of obtaining dental implants, 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 “Implant Timelines for Replacing Missing Teeth.”
Long ago dental work could be painful and stressful—often for both patient and practitioner. Thankfully, that time is long past: today, most procedures are painless in large part due to local anesthesia.
Local anesthetics are numbing substances applied to specific areas of the body like the teeth and gums to temporarily block pain during a procedure. And because they only affect a localized area of the body, you remain conscious and alert throughout the procedure.
To achieve the level of numbing necessary for dental work, we often need to deaden the gums using a needle to deliver the anesthetic. But then this poses a secondary pain concern—the needle stick itself.
Again, topical anesthesia comes to the rescue in the form of a swab, patch or spray applying an anesthetic directly to the top layer of the gums at the injection site. This numbs the area and prevents you from feeling the needle stick. It's highly probable, therefore, that from start to finish you won't feel any discomfort during your dental work except perhaps for a little pressure.
Local anesthesia truly is a game changer for dental care—and not just for the patient. A dentist who's concerned about their patient's comfort level may work hurriedly to complete a procedure. But if their patient is relaxed, the dentist can work calmly and methodically. The result is better, more focused care.
For all its improvements in the patient experience, though, there has been one consistent complaint—the numbness that often lingers for a while after the procedure is over. But there have been advances in recent years that have helped reduce this irritation: new anesthetic agents (even some that can reverse the anesthetic effect) and fine-tuned dosages can help keep residual numbing to a minimum.
Not all procedures like routine teeth cleanings or enamel shaping require anesthesia. But when it's appropriate, local anesthesia can make your next dental visit much more pleasant.
If you would like more information on how anesthesia benefits your dental care, 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 “Local Anesthesia for Pain-Free Dentistry.”
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