My Blog

Posts for: August, 2018

By Mark D. Zahn, D.D.S., M.S., P.C.
August 28, 2018
Category: Oral Health
SteelyDanFoundersDeathHighlightsImportanceofEarlyCancerDetection

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.”


By Mark D. Zahn, D.D.S., M.S., P.C.
August 18, 2018
Category: Oral Health
StayAheadofGumDiseaseRe-InfectionwithPeriodontalMaintenance

If you've undergone treatment for periodontal (gum) disease, you know how involved it can be. After several sessions of plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) removal, your swollen, red gums finally begin to regain their healthy pink color.

But with gum disease, the battle may be over but not necessarily the war. If we don't remain vigilant, there's a high chance you'll experience a re-infection.

That's why periodontal maintenance (PM) is so important for gum disease patients after treatment. Plaque, the thin film of bacteria and food particles responsible for the infection, can grow again on your tooth surfaces as it did before. You'll have to practice diligent, daily brushing and flossing to curb that development.

But it's also important to keep up regular dental visits for advanced cleaning to remove hard to reach plaque and calculus. For most people that's usually twice a year, but for gum disease patients it could be up to four times a year, especially just after treatment. And there's more to these visits than cleaning.

Since our goal is to reduce the chances of re-infection as much as possible, we'll thoroughly examine your teeth, gums and any implants for signs of disease (we'll also include an oral cancer screening). We want to assess the health of your teeth and gums and to see how well you're doing hygiene-wise with plaque control.

If we find signs of gum disease, we'll discuss this with you and schedule a new round of treatment. The sooner we initiate treatment, the better your outcome. In some cases, we may perform procedures that make it easier to access and clean areas where plaque tends to build up.

Overall, we want to prevent the occurrence of any future disease and treat it as soon as possible if it re-occurs. Keeping up diligent PM will help ensure your gums continue to stay healthy.

If you would like more information on after care following periodontal (gum) disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.


By Mark D. Zahn, D.D.S., M.S., P.C.
August 08, 2018
Category: Dental Procedures
Tags: gum recession  
GraftingcanHelpRegenerateGumTissueLostThroughRecession

Gum recession — when the gum tissue covering teeth wears away — is a serious matter. If the roots become exposed you'll not only have increased sensitivity and possible discomfort, your teeth can become more susceptible to decay.

There are a number of reasons for gum recession, including overaggressive brushing and flossing, poor fitting appliances like dentures or braces, or genetics (inheriting a thin gum tissue type or poor tooth position). Perhaps the most common reason, though, is periodontal (gum) disease. Caused by bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that builds up on tooth surfaces, the disease weakens the gum tissues around teeth, causing them ultimately to detach and “roll up” toward the roots.

Treating the gum infection by removing the built-up plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) will help stop recession or even reverse it.  As we remove plaque the infection subsides and the gums cease to be inflamed. If they haven't receded too far they may re-grow and renew their attachment to the teeth.

In other cases, though, the recession may have progressed too far and too rapidly toward root exposure. Gums in this condition may require tissue grafts to the recessed area to create or regenerate new tissue.

Most grafting techniques fall into one of two categories. The first is known as free gingival grafting where a thin layer of skin is removed or "freed" from the roof of the patient's mouth (the palate), shaped and then stitched to the recession site.

The second category is called connective tissue grafting, most often used to cover exposed roots. In this case the donor material is transplanted from the donor site to the recipient site, but the recipient site's tissue covers the donor connective tissue graft as it still maintains a physical attachment to the original location. The recipient site can thus maintain a blood supply, which can result in quicker, more comfortable healing than with free gingival grafting.

Connective tissue grafting does, however, require sophisticated microsurgical techniques, along with the surgeon's in-depth skill and art, to prepare both the donor and recipient sites. Allografts (donor skin from another person) may also be used as a donor tissue and placed beneath the recipient site tissue thereby avoiding a second surgical site.

Gum tissue grafting can be an intense undertaking, but the results can be astounding. Not only will restoring recessed gum tissues give your teeth a new lease on life, it will revitalize your smile.

If you would like more information on treatment for gum recession, 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 “Periodontal Plastic Surgery.”