Oral cancer: Why early detection is so important

Although thousands of Americans die every year from oral cancer, there is a high chance it can be cured if it is caught early enough.

Each year, more than 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer and only half of those diagnosed survive more than five years.

But nowadays, dentists have the skills and tools to ensure that early signs of cancer and pre-cancerous conditions are identified.

If it is caught early, there is a much higher chance that, with your dentist’s help, you could win a battle against oral cancer.

The key is to know the early signs and see your dentist regularly.

Oral cancer often starts as a tiny, unnoticed white or red spot or sore anywhere in the mouth.

It can affect any area of the oral cavity including the lips, gum tissue, cheek lining, tongue or the palate.

Other signs include:
– A sore that bleeds easily or does not heal
– A change in the color of the oral tissues
– A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
– Pain, tenderness, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips
– Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue
– A change in the way the teeth fit together

Oral Cancer most often occurs in those who use any form of tobacco. Smoking combined with alcohol use greatly increases the risk.

However, oral cancer – which is most likely to strike after age 40 – can occur in people who do not smoke and have no other known risk factors.

Diets with a lot of fruits and vegetables may help prevent its development.

Oral cancer screening is a routine part of a dental examination so regular checkups – with an examination of the entire mouth are essential in the early detection of cancerous and pre-cancerous conditions.

How dental x-rays help improve your oral health

Many diseases of the teeth and surrounding tissues cannot be seen when your dentist examines your mouth so an X-ray examination can reveal important additional information:

For example, X-rays can help show:
– Small areas of decay between the teeth or below existing fillings
– Infections in the bone
– Gum disease
– Abscesses or cysts
– Developmental abnormalities
– Some types of tumors

The way they work is that more X-rays are absorbed by the denser parts (such as teeth and bone) than by soft tissues (such as cheeks and gums). This creates an image called a radiograph.

Tooth decay, infections and signs of gum disease appear darker because of more X-ray penetration. The interpretation of these radiographs allows the dentist to safely and accurately detect hidden abnormalities.

The frequency of X-rays (radiographs) will depend on your specific health needs.

Your dentist will review your history, examine your mouth and decide whether you need radiographs and what type.

When you are a new patient, the dentist may recommend radiographs to establish how the hidden areas of your mouth currently look to help identify changes that occur later.

X-rays can help identify and treat dental problems at an early stage and so can save time, money and unnecessary discomfort.

Taking care of removable partial dentures

If you have removable plastic dentures, it’s important to look after them carefully.

You should brush them each day to remove food deposits and plaque. This also helps prevent them from becoming permanently stained.

It’s best to use a brush that is designed for cleaning dentures as it has bristles arranged to fit the shape of the denture. But a regular, soft-bristled toothbrush is also acceptable.

Avoid using a brush with hard bristles as these can damage the denture.

When you are handling a denture, hold them carefully. Try standing over a folded towel or a sink of water with them in case you accidentally drop them.

It’s advisable to use a denture cleanser which has the American Dental Association seal of acceptance. However hand soap or mild dishwashing liquid are also acceptable for cleaning dentures.

Other types of household cleaners and many toothpastes are too abrasive and should not be used for cleaning dentures.

A denture can lose its proper shape if it is not kept moist. So it should be placed in soaking solution or water at night � though one with metal attachments could be tarnished if placed in soaking solution.

As you age, your mouth naturally changes, which can affect the fit of the denture so, if they no longer fit properly, they should be adjusted by your dentist.

See your dentist promptly if your denture becomes loose as this can cause sores or infections.

Don’t try to adjust or repair your denture yourself as this can damage the appliance beyond repair.

When you wear a partial denture, you need to continue brushing twice a day and cleaning between your teeth daily. This will help prevent tooth decay and gum disease.

Pay special attention to cleaning the teeth that fit under the denture’s metal clasps. Plaque that becomes trapped under the clasps will increase the risk of tooth decay.

Your dentist or dental hygienist can demonstrate how to properly brush and clean between teeth.

Regular dental check-ups and having your teeth professionally cleaned are vital for maintaining a healthy smile.

How space maintainers help children have healthy teeth

Space maintainers can be crucial to the dental health of a child.

When a child loses a baby tooth early through decay or injury, the other teeth can shift and begin to fill the vacant space.

If this happens, the problem is that, when the permanent teeth emerge, there’s not enough room for them.

This can lead to crooked or crowded teeth and difficulties with chewing or speaking.

To prevent that, the dentist can insert a space maintainer.

This holds the space left by the lost tooth until the permanent tooth emerges.

Space maintainers might be a band or a temporary crown attached to one side of the space.

When the permanent tooth emerges, the dentist removes the device and protects the child’s future smile.

Fixing crowded and crooked teeth with orthodontics

Correcting problems with crowded and crooked teeth not only gives you a better smile, it also leads to a healthier mouth.

Malocclusion, also known as “bad bite”, involves teeth that are crowded or crooked.

Sometimes, the upper and lower jaws may not meet properly and, although the teeth may appear straight, the individual may have an uneven bite.

Problems such as protruding, crowded or irregularly spaced teeth may be inherited. But thumb-sucking, losing teeth prematurely and accidents also can lead to these conditions.

As well as spoiling your smile, crooked and crowded teeth make cleaning the mouth difficult. This can lead to tooth decay, gum disease and possibly tooth loss.

A bad bite can also interfere with chewing and speaking, cause abnormal wear to tooth enamel and lead to problems with the jaws.

Orthodontic treatment can help correcting these problems giving you a better smile but, more importantly, creating a healthier mouth.

Your dentist will advise you on how orthodontic treatment could help you.

Solving the problem of bad breath

Bad breath – which is also known as halitosis – is a worrying problem that can also be embarrassing.

But there’s no need to put up with it. If you suffer from bad breath, your dentist will be able to suggest a range of solutions.

Your dentist will be able to spot problems such as gum disease, dry mouth or other disorders. That’s why it’s important to maintain good oral hygiene, schedule regular visits to the dentist and have professional cleaning.

Make sure you brush your teeth twice a day and clean between your teeth each day using floss or interdental cleaners. Don’t forget to brush your tongue, too!

If your dental check up shows that your mouth is healthy, your dentist may refer you to your family physician as sometimes bad breath can be a sign of other health problems.

If the odor is due to periodontal (gum) disease, sometimes professional periodontal cleaning is needed to remove the bacteria and plaque that accumulate. And your dentist may recommend a special antimicrobial mouth rinse.

Keeping your mouth healthy and stopping periodontal disease are essential to reducing bad breath.

So make sure you schedule regular dental visits for a professional cleaning and checkup.

How cosmetic dentistry can change your smile – and your life

Modern cosmetic dentistry has created many opportunities that did not exist before for people to improve their appearance and change the way they feel about themselves.

Although cosmetic dentistry really did not exist a few yaears ago, it now attracts interest from a wide range of people.

There are few people who don’t want to improve their appearance by making their teeth straighter and whiter so that they look better when they smile.

New technology and procedures have created many more opportunities for dentists to help patients look better.

One of the most important opportunities for doing this is porcelain veneers.

These are custom-made wafers that the dentist places over the front of the teeth to repair damage and make them look better.

They can overcome many cosmetic dental problems such as whitening stained or discolored teeth, closing gaps between teeth or correcting a crooked smile without the need for braces.

They can also cover up chips and imperfections so that the smile looks much better.

Another important cosmetic trend is the increased use of white fillings.

White fillings now are more lifelike than ever and they last longer than previously.

They have become the material of choice for many dentists as they blend in with teeth and look better.

If you feel your smile is less than perfect, talk to your dentist about how it could be better.

How to overcome problems with teeth grinding

When under stress, many people find themselves grinding their teeth or clenching their jaws.

This habit actually has a name – bruxism – and often it’s something we do when we sleep.

It can be caused by stress and anxiety and it can also be due to sleep disorders, an abnormal bite or missing and crooked teeth.

It can lead to symptoms such as dull headache or a sore jaw.

Your dentist can fit you with a mouth guard to protect your teeth during sleep.

Severe grinding can lead to painful or loose teeth and this can lead to fractures in your teeth.

Taking stress out on your teeth in this way can lead to long term damage so, if stress is the cause, you need to find a way to relax!

Relaxants, counseling and even exercise may help reduce stress and tension and can be a big help to your teeth.

How dentures can replace your smile

If you’ve lost all of your natural teeth, whether from gum disease, tooth decay or injury, complete dentures can replace your missing teeth and your smile.

Replacing missing teeth will benefit your appearance and your health.

Without support from the denture, facial muscles sag, making a person look older. You’ll also find it harder to eat and speak – things that people often take for granted until their natural teeth are lost.

There are various types of complete dentures.

A conventional full denture is made and placed in the patient’s mouth after the remaining teeth are removed and tissues have healed which may take several months.

An immediate complete denture is inserted as soon as the remaining teeth are removed. The dentist takes measurements and makes models of the patient’s jaws during a preliminary visit. With immediate dentures, the denture wearer does not have to be without teeth during the healing period.

Even if you wear full dentures, you still must take good care of your mouth. Brush your gums, tongue and palate every morning with a soft-bristled brush before you insert your dentures to stimulate circulation in your tissues and help remove plaque.

And even if you wear full dentures, it’s important to visit your dentist regularly to maintain your overall oral health and get early warning of serious issues such as oral cancer.

Diabetes and your dental health: How your diet can affect your teeth

When diabetes is not controlled properly, high glucose levels in saliva may create problems that lead to an increased risk of tooth decay.

Your teeth are covered with plaque, a sticky film of bacteria. After you eat food that contains sugars or starches, the bacteria react with these sugars to release acids that attack tooth enamel. This can cause the enamel to break down and may eventually result in cavities.

Brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and cleaning between your teeth with floss or an interdental cleaner helps remove decay-causing plaque.

Plaque that is not removed can eventually harden into calculus, or tartar. When tartar collects above the gumline, it becomes more difficult to clean thoroughly between teeth. This can lead to chronic inflammation and infection in the mouth.

Because diabetes reduces the body’s resistance to infection, the gums are among the tissues likely to be affected.
Periodontal diseases are infections of the gum and bone that hold your teeth in place. Patients with inadequate blood sugar control appear to develop periodontal disease more often and more severely, and they lose more teeth than those who have good control of their diabetes.

Because of the lower resistance and longer healing process, periodontal diseases often appear to be more frequent and more severe among persons with diabetes.

You can help reduce these risks through good maintenance of blood sugar levels, a well-balanced diet, good oral care at home and regular dental checkups.