Posts for category: Dental Procedures
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.
While anyone can lose a permanent tooth, the cause often varies by age group. Adults usually lose their teeth to disease, while those under twenty lose a tooth to accidents.
For adults, a dental implant is usually the best way to replace a missing tooth. Teenagers and younger, on the other hand, must wait to get implants until their jaws fully develop. An implant placed on an immature jaw will eventually look and feel out of place.
For most, their jaws won't reach full maturity until their early twenties. Even so, they still have a couple of good options for restoring their smiles in the meantime, albeit temporarily.
One is a removable partial denture or RPD, a device with the replacement prosthetic (false) tooth or teeth set in a gum-colored acrylic base. Of the various types of RPDs, most teenagers do well with a rigid but lightweight version called a “flipper,” called so because it can be flipped in and out of place with the tongue.
These RPDs are affordable, their fit easily adjusted, and they make cleaning the rest of the teeth easier. But they can break while biting down hard and—because they're dentures—aren't always well accepted among teenagers.
The other option is a bonded bridge. Unlike a traditional bridge secured with crowns cemented to natural teeth, a bonded bridge uses a strip of dental material affixed to the back of the prosthetic tooth with the ends of the strip extending outward horizontally. With the prosthetic tooth inserted into the empty space, these extended ends are bonded to the backs of the natural teeth on either side.
Though not as secure as a traditional bridge, a bonded bridge is more aesthetic and comfortable than an RPG. On the other hand, patients who have a deep bite or a teeth-grinding habit, both of which can generate abnormally high biting forces, run a higher risk of damaging the bridge. A bridge can also make hygiene tasks difficult and time-consuming, requiring a high degree of self-discipline from the patient.
Whichever you choose, both options can effectively replace a teenager's missing tooth while waiting for dental implants. Although temporary, they can make the long wait time for a teenager more bearable.
If you've ever had a run-in with cavities, you know the drill (no pun intended): After getting a local anesthetic for pain, the dentist removes any decayed dental tissue, as well as some healthy tissue, and then fills the cavity to restore the tooth. It's an effective treatment protocol we've been using for well over a century.
It does, however, have its drawbacks. For one, although necessary, removing healthy dental tissue can weaken the overall tooth structure. The dental drill used during the procedure is also unpleasant to many people: Although it doesn't cause any pain thanks to the anesthetic, the sounds and pressure sensations associated with it can be unsettling.
But advances in dental tools, technology and techniques are addressing these drawbacks in traditional tooth decay treatment. In other words, treating a tooth with cavities today is taking on a lighter touch. Here are 3 reasons why.
Earlier detection. The key to effective treatment is to find tooth decay in its earliest stages. By doing so, we can minimize the damage and reduce the extent of treatment needed. To do this, we're beginning to use advanced diagnostic tools including digital x-rays, intraoral cameras and laser fluorescence to spot decay, often before it's visible to the naked eye.
Re-mineralizing enamel. One of the advantages of early detection is to catch tooth enamel just as it's undergoing loss of its mineral content (demineralization) due to contact with acid. At this stage, a tooth is on the verge of developing a cavity. But we can use minimally invasive measures like topically applied fluoride and CPP-ACP (a milk-based product) that stimulates enamel re-mineralization to prevent cavity formation.
Less invasive treatment. If we do encounter cavities, we no longer need to turn automatically to the dental drill. Air abrasion, the use of fine substance particles under high pressure, can precisely remove decayed material with less loss of healthy tissue than a dental drill. We're also using newer filling materials like composite resins that don't require enlarging cavities as much to accommodate them.
These and other techniques—including laser technology—are providing superior treatment of tooth decay with less invasiveness. They can also make for a more pleasant experience when next you're in the dentist's chair.
If you would like more information on effectively treating dental 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 “Minimally Invasive Dentistry.”
If you're thinking about getting dental implants, you may be curious about how long it might take. The answer depends on the health of your supporting bone.
Bone is an integral part of implant functionality as bone cells gradually grow and adhere to the newly placed implant to give it its characteristic strength. The implant also requires an adequate amount of bone to accurately position it for the best appearance outcome.
If the bone is sufficient and healthy, we can proceed with the surgical placement of the implant. The most common practice following surgery is to allow a few weeks for the bone integration described previously to take place before finally attaching the crown. With an alternative known as a “tooth in one day” procedure, we install a crown right after surgery, which gives you a full smile when you leave.
There's one caveat to this latter method, though—because the implant still requires bone integration, this immediate crown is temporary. It's designed to receive no pressure from biting or chewing, which could damage the still integrating implant. We'll install the permanent crown after the implant and bone have had time to fully mesh.
So, if your supporting bone is sound, the complete implant process may only take a few weeks. But what if it's not—what if you've lost bone and don't have enough to support an implant? In that case, the length of process time depends on the severity of the bone loss and if we're able to overcome it. In some cases, we can't, which means we'll need to consider a different restoration.
But it's often possible to regenerate lost bone by grafting bone material at the implant site. If the bone loss is moderate, it may take 2 to 4 months of regrowth after grafting before we can perform implant surgery. If it's more significant or there's disease damage to the socket, it may take longer, usually 4 to 6 months. It largely depends on the rate of bone regeneration.
In a nutshell, then, the health of your jaw's supporting bone has a lot to do with whether the implant process will take a few weeks or a few months. Regardless of the time, though, you'll gain the same result—new, functional teeth and a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on dental implant restorations, 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 Timelines for Replacing Missing Teeth.”
If you have a few missing teeth but can't afford dental implants or fixed bridgework, consider a removal partial denture (RPD). Although implants may be the superior choice aesthetically and functionally, an RPD can still effectively give you back your teeth.
RPDs are designed to replace one or more missing teeth but not a full arch like a full denture. Considered a permanent restoration, RPDs are also more durable than transitional "flippers," denture appliances that are flexible and light enough to be flipped out of the mouth with a flick of the tongue.
The key to both their affordability and durability is vitallium, a strong but lightweight metal alloy most often used in their frame construction. To it we attach artificial teeth usually made of porcelain or glass-filled resins that occupy the precise location of the missing teeth on the gum ridge. The artificial teeth and frame are surrounded by gum-colored plastic for a more natural look.
Each RPD is custom-made depending on the number and location of the missing teeth. Its construction will focus on minimizing any rocking movement of the RPD during chewing or biting. Too much of this movement could damage the adjacent teeth it's attaching to and cause the appliance to be uncomfortable to wear. We can stabilize the frame by precisely fitting it between teeth to buttress it. We also insert small rests or clasps made of vitallium at strategic points to grip teeth and minimize movement.
RPDs do have some downsides: their unique attachment with teeth encourages the accumulation of dental plaque, the thin bacterial film that's the leading cause of tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. These diseases can affect your remaining teeth's health and stability, which could in turn disrupt the fit of the RPD. Also, too much movement of the appliance can make the teeth to which it's attached become more mobile. It's important, then, if you wear a RPD to remove it daily for cleaning (and to thoroughly brush and floss your natural teeth), and to remove it at night to give the attaching teeth a rest.
A RPD can give you back the teeth you've lost for many years to come—if you take care of it. Maintaining both your RPD and the rest of your teeth and gums will help extend the life and use of this effective and affordable replacement restoration.
If you would like more information on teeth replacement options, 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 “Removable Partial Dentures: Still a Viable Tooth-Replacement Alternative.”