Fans everywhere were recently saddened by the news of musical legend Eddie Van Halen's death. Co-founder and lead guitarist for the iconic rock group Van Halen, the 65-year-old superstar passed away from oral cancer.
Van Halen's rise to worldwide fame began in the 1970s with his unique guitar style and energetic performances, but behind the scenes, he struggled with his health. In 2000, he was successfully treated for tongue cancer. He remained cancer-free until 2018 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer to which he succumbed this past October.
Van Halen claimed the metal guitar picks he habitually held in his mouth caused his tongue cancer. It's more likely, though, that his heavy cigarette smoking and alcohol use had more to do with his cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, most oral cancer patients are smokers and, as in Van Halen's case, are more likely to beat one form of oral cancer only to have another form arise in another part of the mouth. Add in heavy alcohol consumption, and the combined habits can increase the risk of oral cancer a hundredfold.
But there are ways to reduce that risk by making some important lifestyle changes. Here's how:
Quit tobacco. Giving up tobacco, whether smoked or smokeless, vastly lowers your oral cancer risk. It's not easy to kick the habit solo, but a medically supervised cessation program or support group can help.
Limit alcohol. If you drink heavily, consider giving up alcohol or limiting yourself to just one or two drinks a day. As with tobacco, it can be difficult doing it alone, so speak with a health professional for assistance.
Eat healthy. You can reduce your cancer risk by avoiding processed foods with nitrites or other known carcinogens. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables with antioxidants that fight cancer. A healthy diet also boosts your overall dental and bodily health.
Practice hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums healthy also lowers oral cancer risk. Brush and floss daily to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. You should also visit us every six months for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
One last thing: Because oral cancer is often diagnosed in its advanced stages, be sure you see us if you notice any persistent sores or other abnormalities on your tongue or the inside of your mouth. An earlier diagnosis of oral cancer can vastly improve the long-term prognosis.
Although not as prevalent as other forms of cancer, oral cancer is among the deadliest with only a 60% five-year survival rate. Making these changes toward a healthier lifestyle can help you avoid this serious disease.
If you would like more information about preventing oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”
October 20th is World Osteoporosis Day, putting the spotlight on this degenerative bone condition and the impact it has on millions of people. Not only does it significantly increase the risk of potentially life-threatening fractures, but it can also indirectly affect dental health.
This connection arises from the use of certain treatment drugs that ultimately could lead to complications following some forms of dental work. These particular drugs, mainly bisphosphonates like Fosamax™ and RANKL inhibitors like Prolia™, destroy bone cells called osteoclasts, whose function is to clear away worn out regular bone cells (osteoblasts). With fewer osteoclasts targeting them, more older osteoblast cells survive longer.
In the short-term, a longer life for these older cells helps bones afflicted by osteoporosis to retain volume and density, and are thus less likely to fracture. Long-term, however, the surviving osteoblasts are less elastic and more brittle than newly formed cells.
In the end, these longer living cells could eventually weaken the bone. In rare situations, this can result in parts of the bone actually dying—a condition known as osteonecrosis. The bones of the body with the highest occurrences of osteonecrosis are the femur (the upper leg bone) and, of specific concern to dental care, the jawbone.
The effect of these medications on the jawbone actually has a name—drug-induced osteonecrosis of the jaw (DIONJ). Fortunately, there's only a 1% risk of it occurring if you're taking these drugs to manage osteoporosis. It's also not a concern for routine procedures like cleanings, fillings or crown placements. But DIONJ could lead to complications with more invasive dental work like tooth extraction, implant placement or periodontal surgery.
It's important, then, that your dentist knows if you're being treated for osteoporosis and the specific drugs you're taking. Depending on the medication, they may suggest, in coordination with your physician, that you take a "drug holiday"—go off of the drug for a set period of time—before a scheduled dental procedure to ease the risk and effects of osteonecrosis.
Because infection after dental work is one possible consequence of osteonecrosis, it's important that you practice thorough oral hygiene every day. Your dentist may also prescribe an antiseptic mouth rinse to include with your hygiene, as well as antibiotics.
You may also want to talk to your doctor about alternative treatments for osteoporosis that pose a lower risk for osteonecrosis. These can range from traditional Vitamin D and calcium supplements to emerging treatments that utilize hormones.
Osteoporosis can complicate dental work, but it doesn't have to prevent you from getting the procedures you need. Working with both your dentist and your physician, you can have the procedures you need to maintain your dental health.
If you would like more information about osteoporosis and dental care, please contact us or schedule a consultation.
Here's some good news: Teenagers are less likely than adults to lose teeth to dental disease. But there's also a flip side. Teens can still lose teeth, more likely from traumatic injury.
Fortunately, there are several options for replacing lost teeth like dentures or bridges. But the choice considered best by most dentists and patients is a dental implant. An implant tooth looks and functions like the real thing—and it's durable, capable of lasting for years, if not decades.
But there's a hitch with teens getting an implant: Even though they may have all their permanent teeth by adolescence, their jaws are still growing and developing. Natural teeth, with their attachment to the jaws by way of a periodontal ligament, can keep pace with this growth—but implants can't.
That's because an implant doesn't have this attachment to gum tissue like natural teeth, but to the jawbone alone. Hence, an implant tooth can't keep up with jaw development, and may eventually look like it's "sunk" into the gums in relation to the teeth around it.
It's best, then, to wait until a teen's jaws have fully developed before attempting an implant. In the meantime, though, they don't have to endure a smile marred by missing teeth, but can replace them with a temporary restoration. The two most common options are a partial denture or a modified bridge.
The partial denture is a lightweight version that's quite affordable. Although not as durable as other types of dentures, the appliance is only intended to last until the patient is old enough for a permanent implant.
The modified bridge is a prosthetic tooth with strips of dental material extending behind it that are bonded to the backs of the teeth on either side to hold it in place. It's likewise not as durable as a traditional bridge, but it can fill the bill until time to place an implant.
Although this adds an additional step in a teen's restorative journey after losing a tooth, it's necessary—waiting to place an implant after jaw maturity will help ensure a long-lasting result. In the meantime, a temporary tooth replacement will help them to enjoy a normal smile.
If you would like more information on dental restorations for teens, 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 “Dental Implants for Teenagers.”
Are your stained teeth bumming you out? There's good news—you can transform that dull and dingy smile yourself with a tooth whitening product.
There are dozens of over-the-counter whitening kits that allow you to brighten your own smile. Although not as controlled and long-lasting as a dentist's professional whitening, these DIY kits can still give you effective results.
But since these products involve chemical solutions that bleach tooth enamel, there's a common concern about their safety. Could you be harming your teeth by using a home whitening kit?
The answer is no—as long as you follow the manufacturer's directions for using the product. These kits have been formulated with a lower percentage of bleaching agent (usually 10% carbamide peroxide) than whitening solutions used by dentists. They've also been subjected to several clinical studies gauging both their effectiveness and safety.
That said, though, exceeding a product's recommended directions and frequency of use could cause you problems. If not used properly, a bleaching solution can erode tooth enamel—and this protective tooth layer doesn't grow back! As long as you whiten "within the lines," so to speak, you shouldn't encounter this kind of situation.
With that said, though, there are good reasons to consult your dentist before using a whitening product, or have them perform the whitening for you.
For one thing, an over-the-counter whitening product won't work if the staining originates from inside a tooth. It's wise, then, to have a dental examination first before using a whitening product to uncover this or any other underlying dental problems that should be addressed first.
You may also find a professional whitening will give you a more desirable result. A stronger professional bleaching solution under a dentist's expert control can produce a brighter, longer lasting smile than a home use product. A dentist may also be able to control the level of brightness better to help you achieve the smile effect you desire, from subtle white to ultra-bright.
Whichever way you go, your dentist can advise you on your options and make sure your teeth are in good shape for whitening. The end result can be a brighter smile—and a brighter mood.
If you would like more information on teeth whitening, 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 “Tooth Whitening Safety Tips.”
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs wrapped up the NFL regular season in January, setting single-season records in both catches and receiving yards. The Bills handily beat the Miami Dolphins, earning themselves the second seed in the AFC playoffs, and Diggs certainly did his part, making 7 catches for 76 yards. But what set the internet ablaze was not Diggs' accomplishments on the field but rather what the camera caught him doing on the sidelines—flossing his teeth!
The Twitterverse erupted with Bills fans poking fun at Diggs. But Diggs is not ashamed of his good oral hygiene habits, and CBS play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan expressed his support with “Dental hygiene is something to take note of, kids! There's never a bad place to floss” and “When you lead the NFL in catches and yards, you can floss anytime you want.”
We like to think so. There's an old joke among dentists:
Q. Which teeth do you need to floss?
A. Only the ones you want to keep.
Although this sounds humorous, it is borne out in research. Of note, a 2017 study showed that people who floss have a lower risk of tooth loss over periods of 5 years and 10 years, and a 2020 study found that older adults who flossed lost an average of 1 tooth in 5 years, while those who don't lost around 4 teeth in the same time period.
We in the dental profession stress the importance of flossing as a daily habit—and Stefon Diggs would likely agree—yet fewer than 1 in 3 Americans floss every day. The 2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, revealed that only 30% of Americans floss every day, while 37% floss less than every day and 32% never floss.
The biggest enemy on the football field may be the opposing team, but the biggest enemy to your oral health is plaque, a sticky film of bacteria and food debris that builds up on tooth surfaces. Plaque can cause tooth decay and gum disease, the number one cause of tooth loss among adults. Flossing is necessary to remove plaque from between teeth and around the gums where a toothbrush can't reach. If not removed, plaque hardens into tartar, which can only be removed by the specialized tools used in the dental office. Regular professional dental cleanings are also needed to get at those hard-to-reach spots you may have missed.
If Diggs can find time to floss during a major NFL game, the rest of us can certainly find a couple minutes a day to do it. While we might not recommend Diggs' technique of flossing from one side of the mouth to the other, we commend his enthusiasm and commitment to keeping his teeth and gums healthy. Along with good dental hygiene at home—or on the sidelines if you are Stefon Diggs—regular professional dental cleanings and checkups play a key role in maintaining a healthy smile for life.
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