This month marks the 20th annual observance of Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Last year, over 50,000 people in the US were diagnosed with oral cancer, and over 10,000 people died from the disease. The 5-year survival rate for oral cancer is only around 57%, making it more deadly than many other types of cancer. But if oral cancer is caught and treated early, the 5-year survival rate jumps to over 80%. This is one reason why regular dental checkups are so important—we can be your best ally in detecting oral cancer in its early stages.
Oral cancer is particularly dangerous because it often develops without pain or obvious symptoms. Early detection greatly improves the chances of successful treatment, but signs of the disease frequently go unnoticed until the cancer is advanced. Fortunately, dentists and dental hygienists are trained to recognize signs of oral cancer in the early stages, when it is most treatable. Oral cancer can appear on any surface of the mouth and throat, with the tongue being the most common site, particularly along the sides, followed by the floor of the mouth. As part of a regular dental exam, we examine these surfaces for even subtle signs of the disease.
Screenings performed at the dental office are the best way to detect oral cancer, but between dental visits it's a good idea to check your own mouth for any of the following: white or red patches, lumps, hard spots, spots that bleed easily or sores that don't heal. Let us know if any of these symptoms don't go away on their own within two or three weeks.
Using tobacco in any form is a major risk factor for oral cancer, especially in combination with alcohol consumption. Although the majority of people diagnosed with oral cancer are over age 55, the fastest growing segment of new diagnoses are among young people due to the rise in cases of sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) in young adults.
A routine dental visit can do much more than preventing and treating tooth decay and gum disease—it might even save your life! If you have questions about oral cancer or are concerned about possible symptoms, call us as soon as possible to schedule an appointment for a consultation.
Although teething is a natural part of your baby's dental development, it can be quite uncomfortable for them—and upsetting to you. During teething, children can experience symptoms like pain, drooling or irritability.
Teething is the two or three-year process of intermittent episodes of the primary ("baby") teeth moving through the gums. These episodes are like storms that build up and then subside after a few days. Your aim as a parent is to help your baby get through the "stormiest" times with as little discomfort as possible. To that end you may have considered using over-the-counter products that temporarily numb irritated gums.
Some of those numbing products, however, contain a pain reliever called benzocaine. In recent years, this and similar ingredients have been found to increase the level of a protein called methemoglobin in the bloodstream. Too much methemoglobin can result in less oxygen delivered to body tissues, a condition known as methemoglobinemia.
This oxygen decrease can cause shortness of breath, fatigue or dizziness. In its severest form it could lead to seizures, coma or even death. Children and infants are at high risk for benzocaine-induced methemoglobinemia, which is why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned marketing for benzocaine products as pain relievers for teething infants and children.
Fortunately, there are alternatives for helping your child weather teething episodes. A clean, chilled (not frozen) teething ring or pacifier, or a cold, wet washcloth can help numb gum pain. You can also massage their gums with a clean finger to help counteract the pressure exerted by an emerging tooth. Be sure, though, that you're not allowing anything in your child's mouth like lead-based paint that could be toxic. And under no circumstances should you use substances containing alcohol.
For severe pain, consult your physician about using a pain reliever like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and the proper dosage for your child. With these tips you can help your child safely pass through a teething episode.
A half million people are diagnosed every year with oral cancer. While other cancers are more prevalent, oral cancer is among the most dangerous with only a fifty percent five-year survival rate.
A major reason for this low rate is because this fast growing cancer is difficult to detect early — diagnosis comes far too often after the disease has already well advanced. In an effort to detect cancer earlier many dentists visually screen for oral abnormalities during checkups, especially patients over fifty, tobacco or heavy alcohol users, patients with a family history of cancer or a medical history of exposure to the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus, HPV-16.
If they detect an abnormality, the dentist often refers the patient to an oral surgeon or other specialist for a possible biopsy. In this procedure the surgeon removes a sample of the abnormal tissue, which is then examined microscopically for cancer cells. A biopsy remains the most effective way to diagnose oral cancer.
Because of the disease's aggressive nature, many dentists lean to the side of caution when referring patients for biopsy. As a result 90% of oral biopsies reveal no cancer. Reducing the number of biopsy referrals is highly desirable, especially for the patient undergoing the procedure. Tissue samples tend to be large to ensure complete detection of any cancer cells. Depending on the size and location of the sample, there may be a risk for loss of function or disfigurement.
A new screening tool using a sample of a patient's saliva could help reduce the number of biopsy referrals. Besides DNA, saliva also contains dormant genes called biomarkers that activate in response to the presence of a specific disease. This particular saliva test identifies those biomarkers for oral cancer if they're present.
A sample with a low score of biomarkers indicates no cancer present (with a statistical confidence of 99%). A medium or high score indicates cancer may be present, but only a biopsy can determine for sure. Using this test, dentists might be able to reduce the number of biopsy referrals and instead be able to employ watchful waiting in certain cases. Because of its simplicity and non-invasiveness, saliva screening could help identify oral cancer earlier.
Sometimes, looking at old pictures can really bring memories back to life. Just ask Stefani Germanotta—the pop diva better known as Lady Gaga. In one scene from the recent documentary Five Foot Two, as family members sort through headshots from her teen years, her father proclaims: "Here, this proves she had braces!"
"If I had kept that gap, then I would have even more problems with Madonna," Lady Gaga replies, referencing an ongoing feud between the two musical celebrities.
The photos of Gaga's teenage smile reveal that the singer of hits like "Born This Way" once had a noticeable gap (which dentists call a diastema) between her front teeth. This condition is common in children, but often becomes less conspicuous with age. It isn't necessarily a problem: Lots of well-known people have extra space in their smiles, including ex-football player and TV host Michael Strahan, actress Anna Paquin…and fellow pop superstar Madonna. It hasn't hurt any of their careers.
Yet others would prefer a smile without the gap. Fortunately, diastema in children is generally not difficult to fix. One of the easiest ways to do so is with traditional braces or clear aligners. These orthodontic appliances, usually worn for a period of months, can actually move the teeth into positions that look more pleasing in the smile and function better in the bite. For many people, orthodontic treatment is a part of their emergence from adolescence into adulthood.
Braces and aligners, along with other specialized orthodontic appliances, can also remedy many bite problems besides diastema. They can correct misaligned teeth and spacing irregularities, fix overbites and underbites, and take care of numerous other types of malocclusions (bite problems).
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that kids get screened for orthodontic problems at age 7. Even if an issue is found, most won't get treatment at this age—but in some instances, it's possible that early intervention can save a great deal of time, money and effort later. For example, while the jaw is still developing, its growth can be guided with special appliances that can make future orthodontic treatment go quicker and easier.
Yet orthodontics isn't just for children—adults can wear braces too! As long as teeth and gums are healthy, there's no upper age limit on orthodontic treatment. Instead of traditional silver braces, many adults choose tooth-colored braces or clear aligners to complement their more professional appearance.
So if your child is at the age where screening is recommended—or if you're unhappy with your own smile—ask us whether orthodontics could help. But if you get into a rivalry with Madonna…you're on your own.
If you have questions about orthodontic treatment, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Magic of Orthodontics” and “Orthodontics For The Older Adult.”
Orthodontics relies on certain mechanics in the mouth to move teeth to better positions. As the specialty has advanced, we've become ever more precise in moving teeth with braces, the “workhorse” of orthodontics, and other specialized appliances and techniques.
But although cooperating effectively with the mouth's natural ability for tooth movement is crucial for success, there's another aspect to consider if that success will be long-term: the growth and development of oral and facial structure. And not just development during childhood and adolescence: indeed, facial structure continues to change throughout a lifetime, including the senior years. Research has shown that although the rate of growth slows over time, it doesn't stop even for someone 80 years or older.
Our emerging understanding in this area has had an important impact on how and when we perform orthodontic treatment. As we develop a treatment strategy for an individual patient we consider not only the immediate outcome of a treatment, but also how it may change their facial appearance in the future. By taking continuing facial growth into consideration, we're more likely to achieve a new smile appearance that remains attractive later in life.
A key factor is to be sure we're initiating treatments at appropriate ages. We may detect developing bite problems as early as age 6, which might prompt preventive treatment at that time to diminish or even eliminate the problem. But it may also be prudent to wait on full-scale orthodontic treatment until late childhood or puberty. Furthermore, some form of orthodontic treatment might need to continue into early adulthood to ensure the most optimal outcome.
By taking a longer view of the treatment process, we're better able to work within the natural growth and development taking place now and in the future. As a result, a person is more likely to enjoy an attractive and youthful appearance even in their later years.
If you would like more information on aging factors for cosmetic enhancement, 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 Aging Makes Beauty Timeless.”
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