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.”
Life would be harrowing if we had no ability to feel pain. Although experiencing it is unpleasant, pain's purpose is to alert us to something wrong in our body. Without pain diseases and other problems could worsen to the point of life-threatening.
But pain without a purpose — the nerves simply misfiring — can make life miserable. This can happen with the trigeminal nerves that exit the brain stem and end on each side of the face. Each nerve has three branches that serve the upper, middle and lower parts of the face and jaw.
When they don't work properly, trigeminal nerves can give rise to a disorder known as trigeminal neuralgia. Beginning often as an occasional twinge, they may escalate to several seconds of mild to excruciating pain occurring over weeks, months or even years. An episode may erupt from chewing, speaking or even lightly touching of the face.
We see this condition most often in people over fifty, particularly women. We don't know the exact cause, but there's strong suspicion that the nerve's protective sheath has been damaged, similar to what occurs with multiple sclerosis or other inflammatory conditions. Another possibility is a blood vessel putting pressure on the nerve and disrupting its normal operation. Such an impinged nerve might transmit pain signals at the slightest stimulation and then fail to “switch off” when the stimulation stops.
Although we can't cure trigeminal neuralgia, we can help you manage it and reduce discomfort during episodes. We'll first try conservative, less-invasive techniques, like signal-blocking medications or drugs that reduce abnormal firing.
If these aren't effective, we may then recommend a surgical solution. One such procedure is known as percutaneous treatment in which we insert a thin needle to selectively damage nerve fibers to prevent their firing. If we've determined an artery or vein has compressed the nerve, we might surgically relocate the vessel. These techniques can be quite effective but they do have possible side effects like numbness or hearing loss.
If you've experienced facial pain, don't continue to suffer. Visit us for a complete examination and learn about your options for pain relief. More than likely, there's a way to reduce your pain and improve your quality of life.
If you would like more information on facial pain, 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 “Trigeminal Neuralgia.”
Ask people about the “Great American Smoke-Out,” and many could tell you about this annual promotion encouraging tobacco smokers to quit. Ask them about “The Great American Spit-Out,” though, and they may look puzzled. That’s because most of society’s attention is on quitting smoking; but the truth is smoking isn’t the only tobacco habit that needs to be kicked.
Whether chewing tobacco or the more finely ground snuff, smokeless tobacco is a popular habit especially among young athletes. It doesn’t receive the attention of smoking tobacco because it’s perceived as less dangerous. The truth is, though, it’s just as hazardous — especially to your oral health.
While any form of tobacco is considered a carcinogen, smokeless tobacco in particular has been linked to oral cancer. This is especially dangerous not only because oral cancer can lead to physical disfigurement and other negative outcomes, but it also has a dismal 58% survival rate five years from diagnosis.
And because it too contains highly addictive nicotine, smokeless tobacco can be just as difficult to quit as smoking. Fortunately, the same techniques for smoking cessation can work with chewing habits. Nicotine replacements like nicotine gum, lozenges and patches, as well as Zyban, a cessation medication, have all been shown helpful with quitting smokeless tobacco.
Often, however, it takes a change in perception — taking chewing tobacco down from its pedestal of “coolness” and seeing it for what it is: a dangerous habit that increases the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and even decreased sexual arousal and function. And although not life-threatening, it can also give you bad breath, dry mouth and an assortment of dental problems that incur financial and social costs. Teeth and gums in that environment aren’t so cool.
The first step is to consider the consequences of continuing the chewing or dipping habit and making the decision to quit. You may also benefit from the help of others: counselors experienced with tobacco cessation programs or a support group of others trying to quit. Following through aggressively will help ensure smokeless tobacco won’t lead to the loss of your teeth, health or life.
If you would like more information on quitting smokeless tobacco, 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 “Quitting Chewing Tobacco.”
Many things can affect your child’s future dental health: oral hygiene, diet, or habits like thumb sucking or teeth grinding. But there’s one you might not have considered: how they breathe.
Specifically, we mean whether they breathe primarily through their mouth rather than through their nose. The latter could have an adverse impact on both oral and general health. If you’ve noticed your child snoring, their mouth falling open while awake and at rest, fatigue or irritability you should seek definite diagnosis and treatment.
Chronic mouth breathing can cause dry mouth, which in turn increases the risk of dental disease. It deprives the body of air filtration (which occurs with nose breathing) that reduces possible allergens. There’s also a reduction in nitric oxide production, stimulated by nose breathing, which benefits overall health.
Mouth breathing could also hurt your child’s jaw structure development. When breathing through the nose, a child’s tongue rests on the palate (roof of the mouth). This allows it to become a mold for the palate and upper jaw to form around. Conversely with mouth breathers the tongue rests behind the bottom teeth, which deprives the developing upper jaw of its tongue mold.
The general reason why a person breathes through the mouth is because breathing through the nose is uncomfortable or difficult. This difficulty, though, could arise for a number of reasons: allergy problems, for example, or enlarged tonsils or adenoids pressing against the nasal cavity and interfering with breathing. Abnormal tissue growth could also obstruct the tongue or lip during breathing.
Treatment for mouth breathing will depend on its particular cause. For example, problems with tonsils and adenoids and sinuses are often treated by an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist. Cases where the mandible (upper jaw and palate) has developed too narrowly due to mouth breathing may require an orthodontist to apply a palatal expander, which gradually widens the jaw. The latter treatment could also influence the airway size, further making it easier to breathe through the nose.
The best time for many of these treatments is early in a child’s growth development. So to avoid long-term issues with facial structure and overall dental health, you should see your dentist as soon as possible if you suspect mouth breathing.
A healthy smile depends on the strength of your oral hygiene routine. Failing to brush thoroughly or floss regularly can increase your risk of cavities, bad breath and gum disease. South Glastonbury, CT, dentist Dr. Steven Hinchey shares a few signs that may mean that your oral hygiene routine can stand some improvement.
You forget to brush at night sometimes
Do you ever fall asleep on the couch, then get up to go to bed without brushing your teeth? When you neglect to brush your teeth at night (or in the morning) cavity-causing flourishes. Plaque, a sticky bacterial coating, causes problems when it mixes with sugars in foods. Once you bite into a chocolate bar or eat a handful of carbohydrate-laden potato chips, a chemical reaction occurs that triggers the creation of acids. These acids are so strong that they can attack your tooth enamel and cause cavities. Brushing your teeth every morning and evening without fail is the simplest way to reduce plaque and lower your cavity risk
You're the speediest brusher in your house
If you value speed over thoroughness, you may also be at risk of tooth decay. The more time you spend brushing your teeth, the better. In fact, experts recommend that you spend at least two minutes brushing your pearly whites.
You floss - when you remember
Plenty of people who brush regularly aren't great flossers. Unfortunately, plaque can build up between your teeth too. If you don't get rid of it by flossing every day, it can cause cavities between your teeth. When plaque remains on your teeth for about 10 days, it turns into a hard deposit called tartar. Tartar can cause gum disease and can't be removed at home. Fortunately, removing plaque and tartar build up is an important part of your regular dental checkups.
You don't use oral care products that contain fluoride
Products that contain fluoride counteract the effects of acids. Fluoride strengthens areas of tooth enamel weakened by acids and helps prevent cavities. Every toothpaste that contains fluoride carries the American Dental Association seal of approval on its packaging. If you don't see the seal, the toothpaste doesn't contain fluoride.
Protect your teeth with excellent oral hygiene and regular dental visits. Call South Glastonbury, CT, dentist Dr. Steven Hinchey at (860) 633-6518 to schedule your appointment.
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