Posts for: December, 2018
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.”
Although dental disease prevention has made great strides over the last century, tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease continue to pose a major health threat. People who’ve lost all of their teeth (edentulism) or most of them suffer the most with adverse effects on their overall health, function and appearance.
Removable dentures have been the traditional and most affordable means to treat edentulism. But even with material and construction advances in recent years, dentures can still lose their fit over time as the bone in the jaw shrinks. This happens because the bone no longer has the stimulus of natural teeth and older cells can’t be replenished at a healthy rate; the continuing compression of traditional dentures on the jaw’s bony ridges compounds the problem.
As the bone shrinks the dentures become loose and uncomfortable to wear. Among other results, this poor fit can drastically affect how you eat: studies of denture wearers have found a decrease in their diet’s nutritional value because they’re eating fewer vegetables or fibrous, “chewy” foods and more foods with refined carbohydrates and fats that are easier to eat but less nutritious.
There is an alternative, though, that might slow bone loss and provide a better long-term fit: an overdenture supported by dental implants. With this appliance, a few implants are strategically installed in the upper or lower jaw. Matched attachments securely fasten the denture to the implants. In this case, the implants not the jaw ridge and gums support the denture thereby preserving the bone.
If you’re healthy enough to undergo a tooth extraction, you should be able to handle implant surgery, a minor procedure usually performed with local anesthesia and with little to no discomfort afterward. It may even be possible to retrofit your current denture to work with the implants, but that will need to be determined during the planning stages.
Although more expensive than a traditional denture, overdentures are much more affordable than fixed restorations stabilized with implants. The difference, though, is the increase in your quality of life — for better nutrition, physical health and social confidence.
If you would like more information on treatment for teeth loss, 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 Overdentures for the Lower Jaw.”
It’s estimated that between 10 and 40 million adults in the U.S. suffer from chronic jaw pain and disability. Healthcare providers refer to it as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD), a group of conditions characterized by pain and limited function with the jaw joints, as well as related muscles and tissues.
People with TMJD often experience popping, clicking or grating sounds when they move their lower jaw. The more serious symptoms, however, are severe pain and limited movement of the jaw. The causes of TMJD haven’t been fully substantiated, but it’s believed to be influenced by a person’s genetic background, their gender (most patients are women of childbearing age), their environment and behavioral habits. This uncertainty about the underlying causes has made it difficult to improve treatment strategies for the disorder.
One promising area of research, though, is suspected connections between TMJD and other health problems. In one survey of over 1,500 TMJD patients, nearly two-thirds indicated they had three or more other chronic conditions. Among the most frequently named were fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and sleep disturbances.
We’re not quite sure how or why TMJD might be linked to these other conditions, but further study is underway. Researchers hope any knowledge uncovered could lead to advances in our ability to diagnose, treat and prevent TMJD.
Until then, the more traditional treatment approach remains the best course of action: medication to relax muscles and relieve pain; thermal therapies using hot and cold compresses during flare-ups; and physical therapy. Switching to softer foods temporarily may also give jaw muscles a rest from over-activity. Although jaw surgery is an option, we should consider it a last resort after other therapies have proven altogether ineffective in relieving pain and restoring function.
If you suspect you have TMJD, please visit a medical doctor first. Other conditions could mimic the symptoms of the disorder and would need to be ruled out first. If the diagnosis is TMJD, you’re not alone. You can receive information, support and updates on the latest research by visiting the TMJ Association at www.tmj.org.
If you would like more information on chronic jaw pain, 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 “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions.”