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.
Fans of the primetime TV show The Middle were delighted to see that high school senior Sue, played by Eden Sher, finally got her braces off at the start of Season 6. But since this popular sitcom wouldn’t be complete without some slapstick comedy, this happy event is not without its trials and tribulations: The episode ends with Sue’s whole family diving into a dumpster in search of the teen’s lost retainer. Sue finds it in the garbage and immediately pops it in her mouth. But wait — it doesn’t fit, it’s not even hers!
If you think this scenario is far-fetched, guess again. OK, maybe the part about Sue not washing the retainer upon reclaiming it was just a gag (literally and figuratively), but lost retainers are all too common. Unfortunately, they’re also expensive to replace — so they need to be handled with care. What’s the best way to do that? Retainers should be brushed daily with a soft toothbrush and liquid soap (dish soap works well), and then placed immediately back in your mouth or into the case that came with the retainer. When you are eating a meal at a restaurant, do not wrap your retainer in a napkin and leave it on the table — this is a great way to lose it! Instead, take the case with you, and keep the retainer in it while you’re eating. When you get home, brush your teeth and then put the retainer back in your mouth.
If you do lose your retainer though, let us know right away. Retention is the last step of your orthodontic treatment, and it’s extremely important. You’ve worked hard to get a beautiful smile, and no one wants to see that effort wasted. Yet if you neglect to wear your retainer as instructed, your teeth are likely to shift out of position. Why does this happen?
As you’ve seen firsthand, teeth aren’t rigidly fixed in the jaw — they can be moved in response to light and continuous force. That’s what orthodontic appliances do: apply the right amount of force in a carefully controlled manner. But there are other forces at work on your teeth that can move them in less predictable ways. For example, normal biting and chewing can, over time, cause your teeth to shift position. To get teeth to stay where they’ve been moved orthodontically, new bone needs to form around them and anchor them where they are. That will happen over time, but only if they are held in place with a retainer. That’s why it is so important to wear yours as directed — and notify us immediately if it gets lost.
And if ever you do have to dig your retainer out of a dumpster… be sure to wash it before putting in in your mouth!
If you would like more information on retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers” and “Why Orthodontic Retainers?”
There are a few things you need to do — and not do — while wearing braces: avoid hard or sticky foods, for example, or wear protection during sports to avoid injury. There's one important thing, though, that should be at the top of your list — extra attention to daily brushing and flossing.
The fact is your risk for developing tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease increases during orthodontic treatment. This is because the braces make it more difficult to reach a number of locations around teeth with a toothbrush or floss. Bacterial plaque, the source for these dental diseases, can subsequently build up in these areas.
Teen-aged orthodontic patients are even more susceptible to dental disease than adults. Because their permanent teeth are relatively young they have less resistance to decay than adults with more mature teeth. Hormonal changes during puberty also contribute to greater gum disease vulnerability.
There are some things you can do while wearing braces to avoid these problems. Be sure you're eating a nutritious diet and avoid sugary snacks or acidic foods and beverages (especially sports or energy drinks).Â This will deprive bacteria of one of their favorite food sources, and the minerals in healthy food will contribute to strong enamel.
More importantly, take your time and thoroughly brush and floss all tooth surfaces (above and below the braces wire). To help you do this more efficiently, consider using a specialized toothbrush designed to maneuver around the braces. You might also try a floss threader or a water irrigator to remove plaque between teeth. The latter device uses a pressurized water spray rather than floss to loosen and wash away plaque between teeth.
Even with these efforts, there's still a chance of infection. So, if you notice swollen, red or bleeding gums, or any other problems with your teeth, visit us as soon as possible for an examination. The sooner we detect and treat dental disease while you're wearing braces, the less the impact on your future smile.
If you would like more information on taking care of teeth while wearing braces, 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 “Caring for Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”
Everyone loves a concert where there's plenty of audience participation… until it starts to get out of hand.Â Recently, the platinum-selling band Fifth Harmony was playing to a packed house in Atlanta when things went awry for vocalist Camila Cabello. Fans were batting around a big plastic ball, and one unfortunate swing sent the ball hurtling toward the stage — and directly into Cabello's face. Pushing the microphone into her mouth, it left the “Worth It” singer with a chipped front tooth.
Ouch! Cabello finished the show nevertheless, and didn't seem too upset. “Atlanta… u wild… love u,” she tweeted later that night. “Gotta get it fixed now tho lol.” Fortunately, dentistry offers a number of ways to make that chipped tooth look as good as new.
A small chip at the edge of the tooth can sometimes be polished with dental instruments to remove the sharp edges. If it's a little bigger, a procedure called dental bonding may be recommended. Here, the missing part is filled in with a mixture of plastic resin and glass fillers, which are then cured (hardened) with a special light. The tooth-colored bonding material provides a tough, lifelike restoration that's hard to tell apart from your natural teeth. While bonding can be performed in just one office visit, the material can stain over time and may eventually need to be replaced.
Porcelain veneers are a more long-lasting solution. These wafer-thin coverings go over the entire front surface of the tooth, and can resolve a number of defects — including chips, discoloration, and even minor size or spacing irregularities. You can get a single veneer or have your whole smile redone, in shades ranging from a pearly luster to an ultra-bright white; that's why veneers are a favorite of Hollywood stars. Getting veneers is a procedure that takes several office visits, but the beautiful results can last for many years.
If a chip or crack extends into the inner part of a tooth, you'll probably need a crown (or cap) to restore the tooth's function and appearance. As long as the roots are healthy, the entire part of the tooth above the gum line can be replaced with a natural-looking restoration. You may also need a root canal to remove the damaged pulp material and prevent infection if the fracture went too far. While small chips or cracks aren't usually an emergency (unless accompanied by pain), damage to the tooth's pulp requires prompt attention.
If you have questions about smile restoration, please contact us and schedule an appointment. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty As Never Before” and “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers.”
Braces can change a person's life — not just their appearance but their dental health as well. To be honest, though, wearing braces are, well, kind of a drag — especially for teenagers.
Braces can be restrictive and confining; you'll also have to give up certain favorite foods for a while. But more than any of that, they're just plain unattractive. Even being able to choose colors for the brackets and elastic bands can't fully ease a teenager's embarrassment when they smile.
There is, however, an alternative to braces: clear aligners. And they could make orthodontic treatment during this difficult phase of their life much easier to handle.
Clear aligners are a set of clear plastic trays that can be taken in and out of the mouth. Each of the custom-designed trays is slightly smaller than the previous one in the series. After wearing the first tray for a couple of weeks (at least 20 to 22 hours a day), the patient switches to the next tray in the series. They repeat this process until they've worn all the trays. The gradual change from tray to tray moves the teeth to the desired position.
Clear aligners have some distinct advantages over braces, especially for younger patients. They can be removed for cleaning or for a rare special event. They don't limit movement as much as braces. And, they're nearly invisible — other people may not even notice them. And newer aligners are now designed with tiny “power ridges” that increase their movement capabilities. This has made them more useful for teenagers with complicated bite problems and other issues.
There are cases, though, where braces may be the better choice: where you need more control over tooth movement or the patient needs jaw surgery to achieve proper tooth alignment. And their removability could be an issue if the patient won't leave them in their mouth for the necessary time each day.
To find out if clear aligners might be a viable option for your teenager, visit us for a complete orthodontic examination. We can then discuss your best option — clear aligners or braces — to achieve the most desirable outcome for your teenager.
If you would like more information on treating bite problems in teenagers with clear aligners, 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 “Clear Aligners for teens.”
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