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 dentists 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 sugar in your diet affects your teeth

The sugar content in the food you eat has a big effect on your teeth and gums.

When bacteria (plaque) come into contact with sugar in the mouth, acid is produced, which attacks the teeth for 20 minutes or more. This can eventually result in tooth decay.

Thats why drinking sugar-filled sodas, sweetened fruit drinks, and non-nutritious snacks can take a toll on teeth.

This is particularly true for children as their eating patterns and food choices affect how quickly they develop tooth decay.

Foods that contain sugars of any kind can contribute to tooth decay. However, almost all foods, including milk or vegetables, have some type of sugar. Many of them also contain important nutrients that are an important part in our diet.

To help control the amount of sugar you consume, read food labels and choose foods and beverages that are low in added sugars. Soft drinks,candy, cookies and pastries often contain added sugars.

Making the most of your smile

Your smile is a major factor in the impression people get when they meet you.

And the good news is that you now don’t have to settle for a smile spoiled by stained, chipped, or misshapen teeth.

Advances in dental treatment mean there is a wide range of choices to help you get the smile that you want. Here are some of the options:
– Tooth whitening (bleaching) can help brighten teeth that have become discolored or stained. It can be done in the dental office or with a system the dentist can give you to use at home
– Bonding improves the appearance of teeth that have become chipped, broken, cracked or stained. This is done by bonding tooth-colored materials to the tooth surface
– Enamel shaping involves modifying teeth to improve their appearance by removing or contouring enamel
– Veneers are thin custom-made shells of tooth-colored materials designed to cover the front side of teeth. They are used to treat spaces between teeth and teeth that are chipped, stained or poorly shaped.
– Braces may be needed if teeth are crooked, crowded or do not meet properly – and not just for kids

Even small changes can have a big impact on your smile and so make a huge difference to how you look and how you feel about yourself.

If you’d like an even better smile, your dentist will be able to give you information about the options available.

How to make visiting the dentist easy for kids

Your child should have their first trip to the dentist by the time they are 18 months old and it’s good to make the process as easy as possible for them from the start.

Dental staff are used to dealing with young children and they will know how to make them feel comfortable.

Sometimes, children under three may be treated on the parent’s lap. In this case, the parent sits in the dental chair facing the dentist, and the child is on their lap.

The dentist will tell the child what he or she is going to do in terms they can understand. They will usually have fun dental toys they can use to help.

They will start with an oral examination checking the teeth present and looking at the development of the jaw, gums and soft tissues.

Naturally, as in any new situation, some children are initially unsettled but this is usually short-lived as they get used to it.

Parents can help by ensuring they are calm and relaxed as any anxiety will transfer to the child.

With older children, the parents may stay in the background though sometimes children behave better when the parent is not in the room!

Work with your children and your dentist to find the best way of ensuring they get the treatment they need with minimum worries for everyone.

Your saliva and why its so important

You probably don’t give too much thought to the saliva in your mouth but, if you think of it like a bloodstream you’ll realize how important it is.

Like blood, saliva helps build and maintain the health of the soft and hard tissues.

It removes waste products from the mouth and offers first-line protection against microbial invasion that might lead to disease.

Saliva is derived from blood and therefore can also be used to detect disease.

Saliva enhances enamel protection by providing high levels of calcium and phosphate ions. It contains the minerals that maintain the integrity of the enamel surface and helps protect against caries.

When salivary flow is reduced, oral health deteriorates – much in the same way body tissues suffer if blood circulation is disrupted.

Patients with dry mouths (xerostomia) experience difficulty chewing, speaking and swallowing. A major cause of dry mouth is medication – almost eighty percent of the most commonly prescribed medications lead to dry mouth.

Chewing gum after a snack or meal stimulates salivary flow, clearing food from the mouth and neutralizing plaque acid.

Your saliva is important to your oral health both for preventing disease and in helping to diagnose problems.

Preventing tooth decay in babies and infants

The habits of good dental care should begin as early as possible and its important to take steps to avoid problems with infants and children.

Children need strong, healthy teeth to chew their food and baby teeth also keep a space in the jaw for the adult teeth.

If a baby tooth is lost too early, the teeth beside it may drift into the empty space. So, when it’s time for the adult teeth to come in, there may not be enough room. This can make the teeth crooked or crowded.

The name given to decay in infants and children is baby bottle tooth decay.

It can destroy the teeth and most often occurs in the upper front teeth – though other teeth may also be affected.

Decay can happen when sweetened liquids are given to an infant and are then left clinging to their teeth for long periods. Many sweet liquids cause problems, including milk, formula and fruit juice.

What happens is that bacteria in the mouth use these sugars as food and then produce acids that attack the teeth.

It’s not just what you put in your child’s bottle that causes decay, but how often. Giving your child a bottle of sweetened liquid many times a day isn’t a good idea.

Here are some tips to avoid baby bottle tooth decay in your children:
– After each feeding, wipe the baby’s gums with a clean gauze pad. Begin brushing your child’s teeth when the first tooth erupts. Clean and massage gums in areas that remain toothless, and begin flossing when all the baby teeth have erupted, usually by age 2 or 2.
– Never allow your child to fall asleep with a bottle containing milk, formula, fruit juice or sweetened liquids.
– If your child needs a comforter between regular feedings, at night, or during naps, give them a clean pacifier recommended by your dentist or physician. Never give your child a pacifier dipped in any sweet liquid.
– Avoid filling your child’s bottle with liquids such as sugar water and soft drinks.
– If your local water supply does not contain fluoride (a substance that helps prevent tooth decay), ask your dentist how your child should get it.

Start dental visits by the child’s first birthday and make visits regularly.

If you think your child has dental problems, take the child to the dentist as soon as possible.

How removable partial dentures can help you

Removable partial dentures usually involve replacement teeth attached to plastic bases, connected by metal framework.

They attach to your natural teeth with metal clasps or precision attachments. Precision attachments generally look better than metal clasps and are nearly invisible.

Crowns may be required on your natural teeth to improve the fit of a removable partial denture.

When you first get a partial denture, it may feel awkward or bulky. But you will gradually get used to wearing it.

It will also take a bit of practice to get used to inserting and removing the denture. It should fit into place easily and you should never force it.

Your dentist may suggest that you wear your partial denture all the time at first. While it will be uncomfortable for a while, it will help you identify if any parts of the denture need adjustment.

After making adjustments, your dentist will probably recommend that you take the denture out of your mouth before going to bed and replace it in the morning.

With a denture, eating should become a more pleasant experience compared to having missing teeth.

But, initially, youll need to eat soft foods cut into small pieces. And avoid foods that are extremely sticky or hard.

Some people with missing teeth find it hard to speak clearly so wearing a partial denture may help. However, youll probably need to practice certain words at first to get completely comfortable.

While it can take a little geting used to initially, a partial denture can help you enjoy your food with less worries.

The risks of oral piercing

Young people today choose to make a variety of fashion statements affecting not just the clothes they wear but also their bodies through tattoos and piercing, for example.

Oral piercing may be something they feel looks good but it can lead to problems where they end up needing medical or dental treatment.

Oral piercing can often lead to symptoms such as pain, swelling, infection, increased saliva flow and injuries to the gum tissue.

There can be severe bleeding if a blood vessel is in the path of the needle during the piercing.

Swelling of the tongue is also a common side effect and, in extreme cases, this can block the airway and lead to breathing difficulties.

Other possible problems include chipped or cracked teeth, blood poisoning or even blood clots.

Infection is a very common complication of oral piercing because of the millions of bacteria in your mouth.

Of course, the jewelry itself also causes risk. It can be swallowed or cause damage to your teeth.

So, while young people may feel piercings in the mouth look cool, a great smile will look a lot better in the years to come.

How smoking affects your teeth

While the general effects of smoking on your health are well-known, it can also have significant effects on your oral health.

Here are some of the ways smoking can harm your oral health and hygiene:

– Oral Cancer
– Periodontal (gum) disease
– Delayed healing after a tooth extraction or other oral surgery
– Bad breath
– Stained teeth and tongue
– Diminished sense of taste and smell

Research suggests that smoking may be responsible for almost 75% of adult gum disease.

Tobacco products damage your gum tissue by affecting the attachment of bone and soft tissue to your teeth. One effect is receding gums which expose the tooth roots and increase your risk of tooth decay or to sensitivity to hot and cold in these unprotected areas.

Cigar smoking is equally a major risk and even smokeless tobacco products contain a variety of toxins associated with cancer. Smokeless tobacco can also irritate your gum tissue.

Giving up smoking will provide a significant boost to your oral health as well as giving you the chance to live longer.

What to do if your tooth cracks

While our teeth are normally very strong, they can crack for a number of reasons.

Reasons could include tooth decay, trauma/injury, grinding of the teeth or a stress fracture.

Sometimes, our jaw may be stronger than our teeth and the teeth can fracture when we bite heavily on food.

We can protect our teeth in some circumstances – for example it may be advisable to wear a mouthguard during sports.

Taking proper care of the teeth and regular visits to the dentist will help keep your teeth in good shape.

If a tooth cracks, it may become painful if the nerve is exposed and the area can become tender.

If this happens, rinse your mouth with warm water to clean the area and apply a cold compress to reduce swelling. Then call your dentist immediately.

Treatment will depend on where the tooth has fractured, how close it is to the nerve and the overall condition of the tooth.

A cracked tooth may be repaired with silver alloy, gold, porcelain or plastic. Or it may require a crown or overlay or bonding, which applies porcelain or enamel to the fractured tooth.

If you contact your dentist quickly, they will be able to take the most approriate action to preserve the tooth as much as possible.