Posts for: August, 2019
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 suffer frequent sinus infections, you might want to talk with your dentist about it. It could be your chronic sinus problems stem from a deeply decayed or infected tooth.
Sinuses are hollow, air-filled spaces in the front of the skull associated with nasal passages. The largest, the maxillary sinuses, are located just behind the cheekbones and above and to the rear of the upper jaw on either side of the face. These sinuses can become painfully congested when infected.
One possible cause for an infection in the maxillary sinus can occur in certain people whose upper back teeth (the molars and premolars) have roots that are close to or even protrude into the sinus. This is normally a minor anatomical feature, unless such a tooth becomes infected.
An infection in teeth with advancing decay or whose nerve tissue has died will eventually reach the root tip through tiny passageways called root canals. If the roots are close to or penetrating the maxillary sinus, the infection could move into the sinus. This is known as Maxillary Sinusitis of Endodontic Origin (MSEO).
A case of MSEO could potentially go on for years with occasional flare-ups of sinus congestion or post-nasal drip. Because of the nature of the infection within the sinus, the affected tooth itself may not show the normal signs of infection like sensitivity or pain. Doctors may attempt to treat the sinus infection with antibiotics, but because the actual source of the infection is within the tooth, this therapy is often ineffective.
If your doctor or dentist suspects MSEO, they may refer you to an endodontist, a specialist in root canals and interior tooth problems. With their advanced diagnostic capabilities, endodontists may have a better chance of accurately diagnosing and locating the source of a tooth-related infection.
As with any non-vital tooth, the likely treatment will be root canal therapy in which the infected tissue within the tooth is removed and the empty spaces filled to prevent future infection. For MSEO, the treatment not only preserves the tooth but may also relieve the infection within the sinus.
One of the key parts to an effective oral disease prevention plan is practicing daily oral hygiene to remove dental plaque. Both brushing and flossing are necessary for cleaning your teeth of this thin biofilm of bacteria and food particles most responsible for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
But as important as they are, these two essential hygiene tasks aren’t the end-all-be-all for lowering your disease risk. For the best protection, you should also visit your dentist at least twice a year for thorough dental cleanings. That’s because plaque you might have missed can turn into something much more difficult to remove: calculus.
Also known as tartar, calculus is hardened deposits of plaque. The term comes from the Latin word meaning “small stone,” an apt description of its texture on tooth surfaces. Although not the same as the branch of mathematics that bears the same name, both derive from the same Latin word: Merchants and traders centuries ago used small stones to “calculate” their various transactions.
Over time soft and pliable dental plaque hardens into calculus, in part due to a reaction with saliva. Because of the difficulty of accessing all tooth surfaces, calculus can form even if you have an effective daily hygiene practice.
Once formed, calculus can adhere to teeth so tenaciously, it’s impossible to remove it with brushing and flossing. But dentists and hygienists can remove calculus safely with special tools called scalers.
And it should be removed or it will continue to foster bacterial growth. This in turn increases the chances for infections that attack the teeth, gums or underlying bone. Keeping it under control will therefore diminish your risk for developing dental disease.
Although there are other factors like heredity that can affect your disease risk, keeping your mouth clean is the number one thing you can do to protect your teeth and gums. A daily hygiene practice and regular dental visits will help ensure plaque and its calcified form calculus won’t be a problem.