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.”
We’ve come a long way since the early 1980s when we first identified the HIV virus. Although approximately 35 million people worldwide (including a million Americans) now have the virus, many are living relatively long and normal lives thanks to advanced antiretroviral drugs.
Still, HIV patients must remain vigilant about their health, especially their oral health. In fact, problems with the teeth, gums and other oral structures could be a sign the virus has or is moving into the full disease stage, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). That’s why you or a loved one with the virus should maintain regular dental checkups or see your dentist when you notice any oral abnormalities.
One of the most common conditions among HIV-positive patients is a fungal infection called candidiasis (or “thrush”). It may appear first as deep cracks at the corners of the mouth and then appear on the tongue and roof of the mouth as red lesions. The infection may also cause creamy, white patches that leave a reddened or bleeding surface when wiped.
HIV-positive patients may also suffer from reduced salivary flow. Because saliva helps neutralize excess mouth acid after we eat as well as limit bacterial growth, its absence significantly increases the risk of dental disease. One of the most prominent for HIV-positive patients is periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection normally caused by dental plaque.
While gum disease is prevalent among people in general, one particular form is of grave concern to HIV-positive patients. Necrotizing ulcerative periodontitis (NUP) is characterized by spontaneous gum bleeding, ulcerations and a foul odor. The disease itself can cause loosening and eventually loss of teeth, but it’s also notable as a sign of a patient’s deteriorating immune system. The patient should not only undergo dental treatment (including antibiotics), but also see their primary care physician for updates in treating and managing their overall symptoms.
Above all, HIV-positive patients must be extra diligent about oral hygiene, including daily brushing and flossing. Your dentist may also recommend other measures like saliva stimulators or chlorhexidine mouthrinses to reduce the growth of disease-causing bacteria. Together, you should be able to reduce the effects of HIV-induced teeth and gum problems for a healthier mouth and better quality of life.
If you would like more information on oral care for HIV-AIDS patients, 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 “HIV-AIDS & Oral Health.”
Dental caries (tooth decay) is a leading cause of tooth loss. But with prompt diagnosis and care we can often stop it before it causes too much damage.
The traditional treatment approach is simple: remove all diseased tooth structure and then restore the tooth with a filling. But this otherwise effective treatment has one drawback: you may lose significant healthy structure to accommodate a suitable filling or to make vulnerable areas easier to clean from bacterial plaque.
That's why a new treatment approach called minimally invasive dentistry (MID) is becoming more common. The goal of MID is to remove as little of a tooth's natural enamel and dentin as possible. This leaves the treated tooth stronger and healthier, and could reduce long-term dental costs too.
Here's how MID could change your future dental care.
Better risk assessment. MID includes a treatment protocol called caries management by risk assessment (CAMBRA). With CAMBRA, we evaluate your individual tooth decay risk, including oral bacteria levels, the quality of saliva flow to neutralize mouth acid, and sugar consumption. We then use our findings to customize a treatment plan that targets your areas of highest risk.
New detection methods. The real key to fighting tooth decay is to find it before it can destroy tooth structure with the help of new diagnostic technology. Besides advances in x-ray imaging that provide better views with less radiation exposure, we're also using powerful dental microscopes, lasers and infrared photography to show us more about your teeth than we can see with the naked eye.
"Less is More" treatments. In contrast to the dental drill, many dentists are now using air abrasion rather than a dental drill to remove decayed tooth material. Air abrasion emits tiny material particles within a pressurized air stream that leaves more healthy tooth structure intact than with drilling. We're also using new filling materials like composite resin that not only resemble natural tooth color, but require less structural removal than other types of fillings.
Using MID, we can treat tooth decay while preserving more of your natural teeth. This promises better long-term outcomes for future dental health.
If you would like more information on new treatments for tooth decay, 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: When Less Care is More.”