Fans everywhere were recently saddened by the news of musical legend Eddie Van Halen's death. Co-founder and lead guitarist for the iconic rock group Van Halen, the 65-year-old superstar passed away from oral cancer.
Van Halen's rise to worldwide fame began in the 1970s with his unique guitar style and energetic performances, but behind the scenes, he struggled with his health. In 2000, he was successfully treated for tongue cancer. He remained cancer-free until 2018 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer to which he succumbed this past October.
Van Halen claimed the metal guitar picks he habitually held in his mouth caused his tongue cancer. It's more likely, though, that his heavy cigarette smoking and alcohol use had more to do with his cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, most oral cancer patients are smokers and, as in Van Halen's case, are more likely to beat one form of oral cancer only to have another form arise in another part of the mouth. Add in heavy alcohol consumption, and the combined habits can increase the risk of oral cancer a hundredfold.
But there are ways to reduce that risk by making some important lifestyle changes. Here's how:
Quit tobacco. Giving up tobacco, whether smoked or smokeless, vastly lowers your oral cancer risk. It's not easy to kick the habit solo, but a medically supervised cessation program or support group can help.
Limit alcohol. If you drink heavily, consider giving up alcohol or limiting yourself to just one or two drinks a day. As with tobacco, it can be difficult doing it alone, so speak with a health professional for assistance.
Eat healthy. You can reduce your cancer risk by avoiding processed foods with nitrites or other known carcinogens. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables with antioxidants that fight cancer. A healthy diet also boosts your overall dental and bodily health.
Practice hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums healthy also lowers oral cancer risk. Brush and floss daily to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. You should also visit us every six months for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
One last thing: Because oral cancer is often diagnosed in its advanced stages, be sure you see us if you notice any persistent sores or other abnormalities on your tongue or the inside of your mouth. An earlier diagnosis of oral cancer can vastly improve the long-term prognosis.
Although not as prevalent as other forms of cancer, oral cancer is among the deadliest with only a 60% five-year survival rate. Making these changes toward a healthier lifestyle can help you avoid this serious disease.
If you would like more information about preventing oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”
Preventing tooth decay from developing in your child's teeth requires a strong commitment to daily oral hygiene. But if you have a child with a chronic physical or behavioral condition, you might find it difficult to keep that commitment in the light of other pressing health needs.
But tooth decay is just as important a health issue as the others with which you may contend. Because primary teeth guide incoming permanent teeth to erupt properly, losing them prematurely can lead to a poor bite and other associated problems. This could further diminish their quality of life already compromised by their chronic condition.
Helping your special needs child avoid tooth decay isn't easy—but it can be done. Here's how!
Brush and floss for them. Normally, a parent's goal is to help their children learn to care for their teeth on their own. But depending on the nature of your child's chronic disease, that may not be possible. Instead, you may need to take an active role in their daily hygiene for the foreseeable future, even brushing and flossing for them if necessary.
Model proper dental care. Even so, it's still a good idea to guide them toward performing oral hygiene tasks without assistance, according to their abilities. This could be a long road, though, one that requires your active participation. You can ease this process by continuously modeling good dental care behavior for them through brushing and flossing together.
See an understanding dentist. Although caring for a special needs child can be isolating, you don't have to go at it alone. That includes taking care of their teeth and gums: A dentist who has both training and experience in treating children with chronic health conditions can become an important partner in your efforts to fight tooth decay.
Communicate between all care providers. Likewise, having everyone involved in your child's care on the same page can make decay prevention a much easier process. Be sure then to share your concerns about your child's needs, including dental care, with attending physicians, therapists and, of course, dentists.
If you would like more information on dental care for special needs children, 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 “Managing Tooth Decay in Children With Chronic Diseases.”
The red and puffy gums that sometimes accompany the onset of periodontal (gum) disease don't always catch your attention. You may not even get any symptoms at all, in fact, until the disease has become well advanced.
That's why regular dental visits are so important for gum health: For while you may not notice anything abnormal about your gums, we have a simple procedure known as periodontal probing that can help diagnose the condition of your gums.
Gum disease is a common bacterial infection that affects millions of people worldwide. It most often begins with plaque, a filmy, bacterial buildup on teeth. These bacteria feed and multiply on the remnant food particles in the film, increasing the chances for an infection.
As it grows—as well as the inflammation the body initiates to fight it—the infection weakens the gum attachment to teeth. This can cause the miniscule gap between gums and teeth at the gum line to widen, forming a void called a periodontal pocket. The deeper and wider the pocket, the more advanced the gum infection.
We may be able to verify the presence of a periodontal pocket by using a long, thin probing instrument with millimeter gradations. We gently insert the probe at various locations around a tooth as far as it will comfortably go. We then record the depth by reading the gradation measures lined up with the top of the gums, as well as observing how snug or loose the probe feels within the gum space.
One to three millimeters signifies a healthy attachment between the tooth and gums—anything more than that usually indicates gum disease. Measurements of 5mm indicates a problem, the higher the number, the more advanced is the periodontal disease.
We use these probe readings and other factors to guide our treatment approach in individual cases of gum disease. With a less-advanced infection we may only need to remove plaque and calculus adhering to the crown and just below the gum line. More advanced gum disease infecting the root area may require surgical access through the gums.
All in all, keeping up with regular dental visits can increase the chances of early diagnosis, when the disease is still in its initial stages. And daily oral hygiene to remove harmful plaque may help you avoid gum disease altogether.
If you would like more information on treating gum disease, 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 “Understanding Periodontal Pockets.”
Braces are so common that we often view them as "ho-hum." But there are aspects about braces that make them remarkable. For one, the fact that we can move teeth at all is a wonder of nature.
We normally experience our teeth as firmly set in the jaw, which can easily lead to assuming they're permanently fixed to the bone. They're not. Teeth are actually held in place by a fibrous gum tissue called the periodontal ligament that lies between them and the jawbone. The ligament anchors to both with tiny fibers, which on the tooth side affixes within a thin substance called cementum deposited on the tooth root.
As we said, we don't normally notice teeth moving. But the periodontal ligament does allow movement on a miniscule scale as a response to normal pressures that accompany biting and chewing. Although we're unaware of it, this movement takes place as the bone and cementum ahead of the direction of movement begin to dissolve. Simultaneously, new bone and cementum develops on the other side of the tooth to stabilize the movement.
Orthodontic treatment takes advantage of this natural process. The anchored wires of braces through attached brackets place pressure on the teeth in the intended direction for tooth movement. The natural mechanism described earlier does the rest. Over time, orthodontists have developed an amazing amount of precision working within this mechanism.
Another aspect about braces and other methods we may take for granted is our motive for even trying to move teeth in the first place. It may seem we're only realigning teeth to produce a more attractive smile—which they can do and why we often refer to braces as the "original smile makeover." But there's an even greater desire—straightening teeth can improve dental health.
Poor bites in turn cause other problems. Misaligned teeth are more difficult to keep clean of bacterial plaque, which increases the risk of disease. A poor bite can also accelerate teeth wear and contribute to gum problems like recession. We can eliminate or minimize these problems through bite correction.
Whatever your age, braces or other means can vastly benefit your health and your appearance. They may not always seem so, but braces are one of the true wonders of dental care.
If you would like more information on bite correction through orthodontics, 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 “Moving Teeth With Orthodontics.”
Between the final game of the World Series in late October and spring training in February, major league baseball players work on their skills preparing for the new season. Reporters on a Zoom call to the New York Yankees' training camp wanted to know what star outfielder Aaron Judge had been doing along those lines. But when he smiled, their interest turned elsewhere: What had Aaron Judge done to his teeth?
Already with 120 homers after only five seasons, Judge is a top player with the Yankees. His smile, however, has been less than spectacular. Besides a noticeable gap between his top front teeth (which were also more prominent than the rest of his teeth), Judge also had a chipped tooth injury on a batting helmet in 2017 during a home plate celebration for a fellow player's walk-off home run.
But now Judge's teeth look even, with no chip and no gap. So, what did the Yankee slugger have done?
He hasn't quite said, but it looks as though he received a “smile makeover” with porcelain veneers, one of the best ways to turn dental “ugly ducklings” into “beautiful swans.” And what's even better is that veneers aren't limited to superstar athletes or performers—if you have teeth with a few moderate dental flaws, veneers could also change your smile.
As the name implies, veneers are thin shells of porcelain bonded to the front of teeth to mask chips, cracks, discolorations or slight gaps between teeth. They may even help even out disproportionately sized teeth. Veneers are custom-made by dental technicians based on a patient's particular tooth dimensions and color.
Like other cosmetic techniques, veneers are a blend of technology and artistry. They're made of a durable form of dental porcelain that can withstand biting forces (within reason, though—you'd want to avoid biting down on ice or a hard piece of food with veneered teeth). They're also carefully colored so that they blend seamlessly with your other teeth. With the right artistic touch, we can make them look as natural as possible.
Although porcelain veneers can accommodate a wide range of dental defects, they may not be suitable for more severe flaws. After examining your teeth, we'll let you know if you're a good candidate for veneers or if you should consider another restoration. Chances are, though, veneers could be your way to achieve what Aaron Judge did—a home run smile.
If you would like more information about porcelain veneers, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty As Never Before.”
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