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.”
The mouth is a crowded place with nerves, blood vessels and sinus cavities sharing common space with the teeth and gums. Although important in their own right, these structures can also hinder treatment for complex dental situations like dental implant surgery or impacted teeth.
Treating these and similar situations depends on getting an accurate depiction of “what lies beneath.” Conventional x-rays help, but their two-dimensional images don't always give the full picture. There's another way—cone beam computed tomography (CBCT).
Similar to CT scanning, CBCT uses x-ray energy to take hundreds of “sliced” images that are then re-assembled with special software to create a three-dimensional model viewable on a computer screen. CBCT is different, though, in that it employs a scanning device that revolves around a patient's head, which emits a cone-shaped beam of x-rays to capture the images.
A dentist can manipulate the resulting 3-D model on screen to study revealed oral structures from various angles to pinpoint potential obstacles like nerves or blood vessels. The detailed model may also aid in uncovering the underlying causes of a jaw joint disorder or sleep apnea.
CT technology isn't the only advanced imaging system used in healthcare. Another is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which excites hydrogen atoms in water molecules. This produces different vibration rates in individual tissue structures, which are then translated into detailed images of these structures. Unlike CT or CBCT, MRI doesn't use x-ray energy, but rather a magnetic field and radio waves to produce the atomic vibrations.
But while providing good detail of soft tissues, MRI imaging doesn't perform as well as CBCT with harder tissues like bone or teeth. As to the potential risks of CBCT involving x-ray radiation exposure, dentists follow much the same safety protocols as they do with conventional x-rays. As such, they utilize CBCT only when the benefits far outweigh the potential x-ray exposure risks.
And, CBCT won't be replacing conventional x-rays any time soon—the older technology is often the more practical diagnostic tool for less invasive dental situations. But when a situation requires the most detailed and comprehensive image possible, CBCT can make a big difference.
If you would like more information on advanced dental diagnostics, 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 “Getting the Full Picture With Cone Beam Dental Scans.”
Fermented and distilled beverages have been a part of human culture for millennia. They help us celebrate the joys of life and the companionship of family and friends. But alcohol also has a darker side, if over-consumed: a cause for many social ills, a vehicle for addiction and a contributor to “unwell” being. The latter is particularly true when it comes to oral health.
April is National Alcohol Awareness Month, a time when advocates, public officials and healthcare providers call attention to the negative effects that alcohol can have on society at large and on individuals in particular. In regard to oral health, here are a few ways alcohol might cause problems for your mouth, teeth and gums.
Bad breath. Although not a serious health problem (though it can be a sign of one), halitosis or bad breath can damage your self-confidence and interfere with your social relationships. For many, bad breath is a chronic problem, and too much alcohol consumption can make it worse. Limiting alcohol may be a necessary part of your breath management strategy.
Dry mouth. Having a case of “cottonmouth” may involve more than an unpleasant sensation—if your mouth is constantly dry, you're more likely to experience tooth decay or gum disease. Chronic dry mouth is a sign you're not producing enough saliva, which you need to neutralize acid and fight oral bacteria. Heavy alcohol consumption can make your dry mouth worse.
Dental work. Drinking alcohol soon after an invasive dental procedure can complicate your recovery. Alcohol has an anticoagulant effect on blood, making it harder to slow or stop post-operative bleeding that may occur with incisions or sutures. It's best to avoid alcohol (as well as tobacco) for at least 72 hours after any invasive dental procedure.
Oral cancer. Oral cancer is an especially deadly disease with only a 57% five-year survival rate. Moderate to heavy alcohol drinkers have anywhere from 3 to 9 times the risk of contracting cancer than non-drinkers—and generally the higher the alcohol content, the higher the risk. As with other factors like tobacco, the less alcohol you drink, the lower your risk for oral cancer.
Given its risks to both health and well-being, many people refrain from alcohol altogether. If you do choose to drink, the American Cancer Society and other health organizations recommend no more than two drinks per day for men and one per day for women. Being responsible with alcohol will enhance both the overall quality of your life and your oral health.
If you would like more information about the effect of alcohol and other substances on oral health, please contact us schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
Narcotics have long played an important role in easing severe pain caused by disease, trauma or treatment. Healthcare professionals, including dentists, continue to prescribe them as a matter of course.
But narcotics are also addictive and can be dangerous if abused. Although addictions often arise from using illegal drugs like heroin, they can begin with prescriptive narcotics like morphine or oxycodone that were initially used by patients for legitimate reasons.
As a result, many healthcare providers are looking for alternatives to narcotics and new protocols for pain management. This has led to an emerging approach among dentists to use non-addictive non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as their first choice for pain management, reserving narcotics for more acute situations.
Routinely used by the public to reduce mild to moderate pain, NSAIDs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin have also been found to be effective for managing pain after many dental procedures or minor surgeries. NSAIDs also have fewer side effects than narcotics, and most can be obtained without a prescription.
Dentists have also found that alternating ibuprofen and acetaminophen can greatly increase the pain relief effect. As such, they can be used for many more after-care situations for which narcotics would have been previously prescribed. Using combined usage, dentists can further limit the use of narcotics to only the most severe pain situations.
Research from the early 2010s backs up this new approach. A study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) concluded that patients receiving this combined ibuprofen/acetaminophen usage fared better than those only receiving either one individually. The method could also match the relief power of narcotics in after care for a wide range of procedures.
The NSAID approach is growing in popularity, but it hasn't yet displaced the first-line use of narcotics by dental professionals. The hesitancy to adopt the newer approach is fueled as much by patients, who worry it won't be as adequate as narcotics to manage their pain after dental work, as with dentists.
But as more patients experience effective results after dental work with NSAIDs alone, the new approach should gain even more momentum. And in the end, it promises to be a safer way to manage pain.
If you would like more information on dental pain management, 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 “Are Opioids (Narcotics) the Best Way to Manage Dental Pain?”
Even though coronavirus lockdowns have prevented TV hosts from taping live shows, they're still giving us something to watch via virtual interviews. In the process, we're given occasional glimpses into their home life. During a Tonight Show interview with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his wife, R & B performer Ciara, Jimmy Fallon's daughter Winnie interrupted with breaking news: She had just lost a tooth.
It was an exciting and endearing moment, as well as good television. But with 70 million American kids under 18, each with about 20 primary teeth to lose, it's not an uncommon experience. Nevertheless, it's still good to be prepared if your six-year-old is on the verge of losing that first tooth.
Primary teeth may be smaller than their successors, but they're not inconsequential. Besides providing young children with the means to chew solid food and develop speech skills, primary teeth also serve as placeholders for the corresponding permanent teeth as they develop deep in the gums. That's why it's optimal for baby teeth to remain intact until they're ready to come out.
When that time comes, the tooth's roots will begin to dissolve and the tooth will gradually loosen in the socket. Looseness, though, doesn't automatically signal a baby tooth's imminent end. But come out it will, so be patient.
Then again, if your child, dreaming of a few coins from the tooth fairy, is antsy to move things along, you might feel tempted to use some old folk method for dispatching the tooth—like attaching the tooth to a door handle with string and slamming the door, or maybe using a pair of pliers (yikes!). One young fellow in an online video tied his tooth to a football with a string and let it fly with a forward pass.
Here's some advice from your dentist: Don't. Trying to pull a tooth whose root hasn't sufficiently dissolved could damage your child's gum tissues and increase the risk of infection. It could also cause needless pain.
Left alone, the tooth will normally fall out on its own. If you think, though, that it's truly on the verge (meaning it moves quite freely in the socket), you can pinch the tooth between your thumb and middle finger with a clean tissue and give it a gentle tug. If it's ready, it should pop out. If it doesn't, leave it be for another day or two before trying again.
Your child losing a tooth is an exciting moment, even if it isn't being broadcast on national television. It will be more enjoyable for everyone if you let that moment come naturally.
If you would like more information on the importance and care of primary teeth, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
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