What is an Oral Cancer Screening? Do I need one?
Oral cancer is an epidemic that used to be pretty rare. When we think of cancer in general, cancer of the mouth just isn’t really what comes to mind; we are more concerned about skin, lung, and other cancers that we often hear about. Recently, however, there has been a rise in the incidences seen, especially in younger people. In fact, over 30,000 new cases are diagnosed annually with more than 8,000 resulting in death. But what exactly oral cancer is and how we can prevent it are the questions I want to answer today.
Simply put, oral cancer manifests itself in the mouth in much the same way other cancers do; an uncontrollable cell growth that causes damage to the places around it. The oral cavity includes not just the teeth, but also the tongue, cheek, lips, palate and any soft/hard tissues inside the mouth. The tricky part is that it comes in a variety of forms, some more obvious than others. The old realm of thinking was that it only affected older adults who drank and smoked. While it is true that those habits increase the risk, younger people are being diagnosed every day. Studies show that men are more at risk than women, particularly men over the age of 50. Let’s look at what really puts us at risk though.
Smoking is one of the top risk indicators. Smokers are 6 times more likely than non-smokers to develop some type of oral cancer, not to mention the progression to periodontal disease that smoking also procures. Smokeless tobacco also plays a large role, along with people who drink alcohol heavily. These are some of the top contributing habits, but there are also others, including a familial history of the disease, HPV or lots of sun exposure. Now that we can pinpoint some things that increase your risk, let’s look at what to look out for.
It is so important to be aware of changes and abnormalities in your mouth. Your mouth is different than anyone else’s, and only you and your dentist will be able to gauge what is normal for you. Oral cancer screenings are now a part of most routine cleanings and exams, but it is helpful to be aware of your own mouth and any changes that may occur. Things to look out for are any growths, as in lumps or bumps that have not previously been present. This is especially important if there is a change in color. The most common places to find any sort of irregularity is on the floor of the mouth and the sides of the tongue so be sure to look there. If any sort of question arises as to a sore or problem area, be sure to bring this to your dentist’s attention and he or she may send you to get a biopsy of the area just to be sure. In these situations, there are ways to treat the cancers but early detection is key!
Given what to look for and ways to prevent cancer, I hope you can feel better about your own health. While oral cancer doesn’t get a lot of publicity, it is certainly an upcoming threat and something we need all be aware of. With 5 year survival rates of only about 50%, our job as dentists is to educate our patients for what is normal and what is not and to guide you in the right direction. All that being said, be aware of your mouth just like you would any other part of the body; only you know what’s normal and what’s not. And if there is ever a question, don’t hesitate to visit your dentist! You and your mouth are worth it!
Calera Dental Center
Help! I’ve got a tooth missing!
Whether you just lost a tooth or have had a single tooth missing for years, rest assured you have options. When a tooth is lost, changes will begin to take place immediately, so a long term plan should ideally be in place. Let’s visit a few options.
Option one is always do nothing. But that is certainly a risky one to say the least. When a tooth is lost, a number of changes begin to take place. First, without something present to stimulate the bone, bone loss is a significant problem for that space. In addition, teeth may drift and alter not only the space, but your bite as well. Even if you do not want to do anything right away, it is important to have an idea of your options should you decide to go another route.
The next and best option in most cases is a dental implant. In this case, the implant itself, or post, is surgically placed into your bone and acts as good anchor for a replacement. After placement and healing time, an abutment and crown are placed on top of the post to mimic a natural tooth. This option is great for many reasons. First, it is fixed and does not come in or out of the mouth. It also spares the adjacent teeth and requires no drilling while maintaining healthy bone in that area. Finally, it is easy to clean and looks very natural. All this considered, one must be in good health and have adequate bone to be a candidate. While the cost of implants and time allotted may not be ideal, it is by far the best long term solution to a single missing tooth.
Option three would be a bridge for the area. Now this is also a fixed option and appeals to many because of that reason. A bridge requires preparing the adjacent teeth and hooking them onto a fake tooth, or pontic, in the middle into a single unit that is cemented on. While it is seemingly a greater, cheaper and quicker option, there are some drawbacks. First, this option requires drilling on and potentially weakening the teeth beside the empty space. In some cases, those teeth may already have or need crowns, but often times, drilling on healthy teeth is severely frowned upon as it weakens good teeth. A bridge is also much more difficult to clean since the 3 crowns are attached. This cleaning is very important to master though, because getting decay on one of those adjacent teeth sacrifices the whole thing. This option also has lots of bone loss associated with it because of lack of stimulation after the tooth was removed. This is a reasonable fix in some instances, but definitely has some potential problems associated with it.
Let’s take a look at your last option though. A partial denture. This is just a lab fabricated prosthesis that has replacement teeth fixed to an acrylic base matching your gum color. The plastic piece will hook around other teeth in the arch in order to provide stability and retention and may be on top of a metal base depending on the scenario. This option is certainly viable for finances up front, however, not ideal because it comes in and out, does nothing for counteracting bone loss and usually needs to be replaced more often. This option is also not the most esthetically pleasing or comfortable one for most.
With all these options it certainly gives you something to think about! Each one should be considered carefully and discussed in conjunction with your dentist. Every patient and every case is unique and so should the treatment be. Talk to your dentist and really weigh in on which option is best for you and gives you the most comfort.
How Do I Get Whiter Teeth??
It’s the age old question. How do I get that big beautiful white smile? And fast. People have sought after a whiter smile for ages…as in back to ancient Egyptians who used a combination of vinegar and pumice to do the job. But it gets better. The Romans used urine! Thankfully we have discontinued that practice and learned a thing or two along the way about how to establish whiter teeth without going to major extremes. So let’s dive in and look at all the different ways you can do so too.
First things first, why do I have stain in the first place? We can’t really fix a problem until we address the cause right? There are a number of circumstances that can lead to discoloration of teeth. One of the biggest indicators is simply what you are eating or drinking. Some of the larger culprits include coffee, tea, soda and red wine. Anything with these darker colored pigments, called chromogens, can attach to the enamel and cause the change in color. Speaking of dark colored substances, tobacco can also implement some hefty stains. In addition, age, dental trauma and certain medications may induce some changes. Any or all of these can play a role in the color of our teeth, but it’s important to talk to your dentist about your specific situation so that you can discern exactly why your teeth may not be as white as you like.
Now that we’ve covered the why, we can move on to the how. The most obvious way to whiten is using those crest white strips on the commercials right? Or maybe that 3D whitening toothpaste? But my dentist said he/she can do it too. So which is better and what’s the difference? Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up.
Toothpastes. Many of the toothpastes sold offer some sort of whitening effect, or at least advertise that they do. But let’s be clear as to what this really means. Toothpastes that advertise with an ADA seal for whitening have special properties that aid in polishing and removing surface level stains. They DO NOT change the color of the teeth. This being said, if you have mild staining, this may be a plausible option to begin with, however, do not expect dramatic results.
Over-The-Counter Bleaching. Notice bleaching here is a different term. Bleaching is used when a product is claiming to be able to change the actual color of the tooth rather than just removing surface level stain. Over the counter products such as Crest white strips or Aquafresh white trays are certainly the most financially feasible option, however, there are some catches. The store bought whitening kits use a one-size –fits-all tray or strips in order to deliver the product. While this may not be a deal breaker, it is also important to note that the bleaching product is often a very low concentration and thus not only takes a longer time in order to have a similar effect, it may not be as effective as other higher concentration products.
In-Office-Bleaching. While the cost of professional bleaching may initially deter you, it is important to weigh the pros and cons. Rather than a one-size-fits-all tray, professionally dispensed bleaching offers a custom tray that not only fits your mouth, but can be re-used again and again. Your dentist can also offer you a much higher concentration bleaching product to use at home. That being said, even with the higher percentage of bleach product that dentists can offer, the custom trays have been shown to have far less sensitivity afterwards than other options. Sensitivity is a very normal response to bleaching, however, this option has seen better results regarding such outcomes.
Now that we have the basics covered, it’s important to make an educated decision with your own dentist. Bleaching or whitening will depend on your specific needs and expectations and should be discussed in conjunction with your dentist. There are a variety of options for every situation, so don’t hesitate to make an appointment to discuss how to get the healthiest, brightest, whitest smile for you!
Why Should I Get A Cleaning Every Six Months???
How often do you get your haircut?? Every 6 weeks? Every 8 weeks? Whenever it gets too long? Or how often do you get your oil changed or your tires rotated? Every 3,000 miles? There’s a schedule for that right? Well just like everything else, there is a schedule for taking care of your teeth as well. But who decided that every 6 months was the hard and fast rule for how often you get your teeth cleaned? I mean I don’t necessarily need to get mine cleaned as much since I brush and floss regularly right?
We as dentists have decided that 6 months is that sweet spot for checkups. It’s not too long and not too short but just right for almost everyone. Now there are some exceptions to this rule, but generally twice a year is perfect. Now I know very few people enjoy the scraping and flossing, but let’s just review why we all need to force ourselves to take up this twice yearly visit and make it a habit.
There are two parts to every cleaning, or prophylaxis as we in the dental world refer to it. First, is the cleaning itself. It’s tempting to think that brushing twice a day, flossing and using mouthwash like crazy can accomplish the same thing as a dental cleaning but let’s slow down just a bit and think about how much more a hygienist does at a cleaning. Really, we don’t brush your teeth at all do we? Nope, that’s your job, ours is to do what we call scaling. Scaling is the noise you hear as we scrape off all of the build up around the gumline that you think you have been getting when you brush your teeth. You see, plaque has this way of sticking right beneath your gums and doesn’t come off with just the stroke of a brush. After scaling, yes, we floss just like you, but the effectiveness is much more after having removed all the buildup. In addition to cleaning these hard to reach spots, we polish. The grainy paste we use to clean at the end is specifically designed to remove stains and tarter and really brighten your smile after we get done with all the dirty work.
Now if the cleaning we do wasn’t convincing enough, lets look at the second part of a cleaning. The checkup itself. This portion consists of the dentist looking at the x rays in conjunction with a clinical exam to determine the health of not only your teeth, but everything in and around them including your gums, tongue, tonsils and more. We will take a close look at any and everything you may have going on that is out of the norm or not quite what we would consider up to par as far as oral health is concerned. A checkup is not only a time and place to determine if things are wrong or broken but also crucial for monitoring things that may need to be revisited every so often. One example might be an abnormal lesion or sore on your tongue. While this can lead to oral cancer, it is often something that may be monitored for any changes before jumping to that conclusion. As dentists, we can often be the first to see signs or symptoms of other health issues as well, as many diseases arise with symptoms orally.
So what is my recommendation? 6 months of course! But more specifically, talk to your dentist as he or she knows you and your health better than anyone. Visiting the dentist is just as important as any other preventative/maintenance measure you take in your life, so remember that next time It’s Monday morning and you’re tempted to cancel that 8 am appointment.
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