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.”
Unless you're 6 years old and on speed dial with the Tooth Fairy, a loose tooth isn't a good feeling. It's also a sign something is wrong in your mouth. If you don't take prompt action, you may lose that tooth for good.
To begin with, teeth are held in place by an elastic tissue known as the periodontal ligament. The ligament lies between the tooth and bone and attaches to both through tiny fibers. The thing to note about the ligament is that it does allow for tooth movement, which serves as a “shock absorber” against the forces generated while biting and chewing.
But that movement is normally so slight, you won't perceive it. If you do, chances are there's a problem with the ligament attachment, which may have been damaged due to trauma or disease.
A hard blow to the face could certainly damage both the teeth and their attachments. But it can also happen if one tooth extends out farther than the rest and absorbs more stress during chewing. You could encounter similar damage if you attempt DIY orthodontics or wear tongue jewelry.
The more common source of ligament damage, though, is periodontal (gum) disease, usually caused by dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles left on tooth surfaces. If not treated, the infection can advance deeper into the gum tissues (and eventually the supporting bone), causing the ligaments to weaken and detach. In fact, a loose tooth is often a sign of well-advanced gum disease.
If you notice a loose tooth, you should make an appointment with us as soon as possible. Our first step is to ascertain the underlying cause and initiate any needed treatment. We may also want to splint a loose tooth to adjacent teeth to prevent excessive movement while the ligaments heal and reform their attachment to the tooth.
There will be times when a loose tooth is beyond repair. In that case, it may be best to remove the tooth and install a life-like replacement like a dental implant. But that's not inevitable. If at all possible and practical, we'll try to save your loose tooth.
If you would like more information on loose permanent teeth, 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 “When Permanent Teeth Become Loose.”
As they mature, your child's teeth, gums and jaws develop—if all goes well, they'll all be healthy and functioning normally when they enter adulthood. But tooth decay and other problems could derail that development and cause lingering oral health issues later in life.
Following these 4 guidelines now during your child's early years will help ensure their teeth and gums have a healthy future.
Start oral hygiene early. There's no need to wait for their first teeth to come in to begin your child's regular oral hygiene. Start with wiping their gums right after feeding with a clean wet cloth to minimize bacterial development. Then, start brushing as soon as teeth appear—to begin with, use a slight smear of toothpaste on the brush. As they mature, teach them to brush and later floss for themselves.
Check your water. Most utilities add tiny traces of fluoride to their drinking water supply. If your water supplier does, it can make a big difference (along with fluoride toothpaste) in helping your child avoid tooth decay. If your system doesn't, then speak to your dentist about whether your child could benefit from topical fluoride applied directly to their teeth.
Keep a check on sugar. Decay-causing bacteria thrive on the sugar added to processed foods, candies and many beverages. Even milder forms of sugar like lactose found in milk or formula can stimulate bacterial growth. So, in addition to daily brushing and flossing, do your best to minimize sugar in your child's diet. And don't put infants or toddlers to bed with a bottle filled with any liquid other than water.
See the dentist. Starting around their first birthday, regular dental visits can help keep your child's dental development on track. Dental visits are also an opportunity for preventive treatments against decay like sealants or topical fluoride. Your dentist may also detect the early signs of bite problems that if addressed now, could lessen their impact later in life.
Your child's dental health could get off course before you even realize it. But partnering with your dentist, you can help make sure your child's teeth and gums have a bright and healthy future.
If you would like more information on how best to care for your child's oral health, 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 “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”
Besides straight and translucent teeth, an attractive smile has another important component: balance. In a great smile, the visible areas of the teeth and gums are in balanced proportion to one another.
But what is the ideal proportion between teeth and gums? Although aesthetic appeal is largely “in the eye of the beholder,” dental professionals typically consider a properly sized tooth to be around 10 mm in visible length. As for the upper gums, no more than 4 mm of tissue should show when smiling. Teeth appearing shorter than 10 mm or the gums displaying more than 4 mm can create an effect called a “gummy smile.”
Fortunately, there are different approaches for correcting a gummy smile, depending on what's causing the appearance of gumminess. Not only are there different causes, but they can be diverse in nature.
Obviously, an actual excess of gum tissue can cause a smile to look gummy—but so can shortened teeth. One possible solution called crown lengthening could help correct either possibility. During the procedure, we remove any excess gum tissue or reposition the gums after reshaping the underlying bone to reveal more of the tooth crown. Worn or shortened teeth can also be made to look longer with porcelain veneers.
A gummy smile could also be caused by a hypermobile lip, in which the lip rises higher than normal while smiling. We may be able to prevent this temporarily by injecting Botox into the lip muscles, which paralyzes them and inhibits their ability to move upward. A more permanent approach is to surgically restrict the upward movement of the lip muscles.
The gums may also seem too prominent if the upper jaw is longer in proportion to the face. One way to correct this is orthognathic surgery, a procedure that moves the upper jaw to a higher position on the skull. This can reduce the jaw profile with the face and subsequently affect how much of the gums show while smiling.
These solutions range from relatively minor to significantly invasive. The first step, though, is to find out what's really behind your gummy smile before taking the next step to make it more attractive.
If you would like more information on improving a gummy smile, 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 “Gummy Smiles.”
For nearly two decades, singer-songwriter Taylor Swift has dominated the pop and country charts. In December she launched her ninth studio album, called evermore, and in January she delighted fans by releasing two bonus tracks. And although her immense fame earns her plenty of celebrity gossip coverage, she's managed to avoid scandals that plague other superstars. She did, however, run into a bit of trouble a few years ago—and there's video to prove it. It seems Taylor once had a bad habit of losing her orthodontic retainer on the road.
She's not alone! Anyone who's had to wear a retainer knows how easy it is to misplace one. No, you won't need rehab—although you might get a mild scolding from your dentist like Taylor did in her tongue-in-cheek YouTube video. You do, though, face a bigger problem if you don't replace it: Not wearing a retainer could undo all the time and effort it took to acquire that straight, beautiful smile. That's because the same natural mechanism that makes moving teeth orthodontically possible can also work in reverse once the braces or clear aligners are removed and no longer exerting pressure on the teeth. Without that pressure, the ligaments that hold your teeth in place can “remember” where the teeth were originally and gradually move them back.
A retainer prevents this by applying just enough pressure to keep or “retain” the teeth in their new position. And it's really not the end of the world if you lose or break your retainer. You can have it replaced with a new one, but that's an unwelcome, added expense.
You do have another option other than the removable (and easily misplaced) kind: a bonded retainer, a thin wire bonded to the back of the teeth. You can't lose it because it's always with you—fixed in place until the orthodontist removes it. And because it's hidden behind the teeth, no one but you and your orthodontist need to know you're wearing it—something you can't always say about a removable one.
Bonded retainers do have a few disadvantages. The wire can feel odd to your tongue and may take a little time to get used to it. It can make flossing difficult, which can increase the risk of dental disease. However, interdental floss picks can help here. And although you can't lose it, a bonded retainer can break if it encounters too much biting force—although that's rare.
Your choice of bonded or removable retainer depends mainly on your individual situation and what your orthodontist recommends. But, if losing a retainer is a concern, a bonded retainer may be the way to go. And take if from Taylor: It's better to keep your retainer than to lose it.
If you would like more information about protecting your smile after orthodontics, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
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