Posts for: April, 2021
Rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen died last fall after a long battle with oral cancer, another in a long line of performers, athletes, politicians and other well-known personalities with this serious form of cancer. But household names like Van Halen are just the tip of the iceberg: Around 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer each year.
Although not as common as other malignancies (around 2.5% of total cancers), oral cancer has one of the lowest five-year survival rates at a dismal 57%. Part of the reason for this has been the longstanding difficulty detecting it in its earlier stages: Early signs are easy to miss or mistake for a benign sore. As a result, it's often diagnosed after advancing significantly, complicating treatment efforts.
To improve survivability, the Oral Cancer Foundation designates each April as Oral Cancer Awareness Month to better educate people on this deadly disease. Here are 3 things you can do to prevent oral cancer or improve your survival odds if you encounter it.
Know your individual risk factors. Some risk factors for oral cancer are out of your control—for example, your risk may be higher if you're a male over 40, or if you're African-American. But there are also factors you can control like tobacco use, high alcohol consumption or a poor diet, all of which can elevate your cancer risk. You can lower that risk by making lifestyle changes for factors you can control and prioritizing cancer screening if you have factors that you can't.
Pay attention to oral “oddities.” A small mouth sore or patch of odd-looking skin may be nothing—or it may be the beginning of oral cancer. If you do notice something unusual, especially if it seems to linger beyond a couple of weeks, have us examine it as soon as possible. If it does appear suspicious, you may need to undergo a biopsy, a cancer analysis of the suspected tissue. If it is cancerous, an early diagnosis could improve your outcome.
Visit your dentist regularly. There's more to semi-annual dental visits than teeth cleaning. Regular dental visits are an important component in your “early warning system” for oral cancer—we may notice something suspicious during your regular visit, often before you do. If you're older or have other risk factors for oral cancer, we can expand your regular exam to include a comprehensive cancer screening.
Oral cancer is a serious matter. But taking steps to prevent it and staying alert to its warning signs can help you overcome it.
We can't stop getting older or completely avoid many of the consequences that come with aging. Even so, there are things we can do to age more gracefully.
That includes your smile, which can also suffer the ravages of time. Teeth naturally wear and yellow over the years. We're also more susceptible to both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease as we age.
You can help slow some of these age-related dental problems by simply caring for your teeth and gums. This includes not only brushing and flossing every day to remove dental plaque (which can cause disease and dull your smile), but also seeing a dentist every few months for more thorough cleanings.
You can also take advantage of certain cosmetic enhancements to address some of the age-related issues that could keep you from having a more youthful smile.
Discolored teeth. Teeth tend to get darker over time, the combination of stain-causing foods and beverages, habits like smoking and age-related changes in tooth structure. You may be able to temporarily attain a brighter smile with teeth whitening. For a more permanent effect, we can cover stained teeth with porcelain veneers, dental bonding or dental crowns.
Worn teeth. After decades of chewing and biting, teeth tend to wear, with habits like teeth grinding accelerating it. This can cause teeth to appear abnormally small with hard, sharpened edges in contrast to the soft, rounded contours of younger teeth. In some cases, we can restore softer tooth edges with enamel contouring and reshaping. For more severe wearing, veneers or crowns could once again provide a solution.
Recessed gums. Because of gum disease, over-aggressive brushing or a genetic disposition to thinner gums, gums can shrink back or “recede” from normal teeth coverage. This not only exposes vulnerable areas of the teeth to harmful bacteria, it can also make teeth appear longer than normal (hence the aging description, “long in the tooth”). We can address recession by treating any gum disease present and, in extreme cases, perform grafting surgery to help rebuild lost tissue.
Losing your attractive smile isn't inevitable as you get older. We can help you make sure your smile ages gracefully along with the rest of you.
If you would like more information on keeping a youthful smile, 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 “How Your Dentist Can Help You Look Younger.”
Narcotics have long played an important role in easing severe pain caused by disease, trauma or treatment. Healthcare professionals, including dentists, continue to prescribe them as a matter of course.
But narcotics are also addictive and can be dangerous if abused. Although addictions often arise from using illegal drugs like heroin, they can begin with prescriptive narcotics like morphine or oxycodone that were initially used by patients for legitimate reasons.
As a result, many healthcare providers are looking for alternatives to narcotics and new protocols for pain management. This has led to an emerging approach among dentists to use non-addictive non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as their first choice for pain management, reserving narcotics for more acute situations.
Routinely used by the public to reduce mild to moderate pain, NSAIDs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin have also been found to be effective for managing pain after many dental procedures or minor surgeries. NSAIDs also have fewer side effects than narcotics, and most can be obtained without a prescription.
Dentists have also found that alternating ibuprofen and acetaminophen can greatly increase the pain relief effect. As such, they can be used for many more after-care situations for which narcotics would have been previously prescribed. Using combined usage, dentists can further limit the use of narcotics to only the most severe pain situations.
Research from the early 2010s backs up this new approach. A study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) concluded that patients receiving this combined ibuprofen/acetaminophen usage fared better than those only receiving either one individually. The method could also match the relief power of narcotics in after care for a wide range of procedures.
The NSAID approach is growing in popularity, but it hasn't yet displaced the first-line use of narcotics by dental professionals. The hesitancy to adopt the newer approach is fueled as much by patients, who worry it won't be as adequate as narcotics to manage their pain after dental work, as with dentists.
But as more patients experience effective results after dental work with NSAIDs alone, the new approach should gain even more momentum. And in the end, it promises to be a safer way to manage pain.
If you would like more information on dental pain management, 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 “Are Opioids (Narcotics) the Best Way to Manage Dental Pain?”