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.”
Chronic joint pain (temporomandibular joint disorder or TMD) in and of itself can make life miserable. But TMD may not be the only debilitating condition you're contending with—it's quite common for TMD patients to also suffer from fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia is a condition with a variety of muscular and neurological symptoms like widespread pain, joint stiffness, headaches and tingling sensations. These symptoms can also give rise to sleep and mood disorder, as well as difficulties with memory. Fibromyalgia can occur in both males and females, but like TMD, it's predominant among women, particularly those in their child-bearing years.
In the past, physicians were mystified by these symptoms of body-wide pain that didn't seem to have an apparent cause such as localized nerve damage. But continuing research has produced a workable theory—that fibromyalgia is related to some defect within the brain or spinal cord (the central nervous system), perhaps even on the genetic level.
This has also led researchers to consider that a simultaneous occurrence of TMD and fibromyalgia may not be coincidental—that the same defect causing fibromyalgia may also be responsible for TMD. If this is true, then the development of new treatments based on this understanding could benefit both conditions.
For example, it's been suggested that drugs which relieve neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain may be effective in relieving fibromyalgia pain. If so, they might also have a similar effect on TMD symptoms.
As the study of conditions like fibromyalgia and TMD continues, researchers are hopeful new therapies will arise that benefit treatment for both. In the meantime, there are effective ways to cope with the symptoms of TMD, among them cold and hot therapy for inflamed jaw joints, physical exercises and stress reduction techniques.
The key is to experiment with these and other proven therapies to find the right combination for an individual patient to find noticeable relief. And perhaps one day in the not too distant future, even better treatments may arise.
If you would like more information on the connection between TMD and other chronic pain conditions, 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 “Fibromyalgia and Temporomandibular Disorders.”
If you live an average lifespan, you'll spend more than 200,000 hours in blissful slumber. It's not a waste, though: You absolutely need this much sleep to maintain optimum physical and mental health. That's why the National Sleep Foundation recognizes each March as Sleep Awareness Month to highlight the obstacles to a good night's sleep. One such obstacle is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)—and if you have it, we may be able to help you reduce the harm it may be causing you.
OSA is the blockage of the airway during sleep, usually when the tongue relaxes against the back of the throat. As the oxygen level falls, the brain arouses the sleeper to restore airflow. This only takes a few seconds before the person slips back into sleep, but it can occur several times an hour.
As this scenario repeats itself night after night, the person becomes deprived of the deeper stages of sleep they need to stay healthy. The long-term effect can even be life-threatening: Besides chronic fatigue and “brain fog,” there's also an increased risk of high blood pressure, disease or other serious health conditions.
But there are ways to reduce chronic OSA, the most common being a therapy known as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). A CPAP machine, prescribed by a medical doctor, consists of a small pump that streams pressurized air into the mouth through a hose and facemask; the increased air pressure in the mouth helps keep the airway open. It's a proven method, but not always a favorite with some patients who find it uncomfortable and restrictive to wear every night.
If you're in that camp regarding CPAP therapy, an alternative may be possible: oral appliance therapy (OAT), which dentists can provide. Worn in the mouth during sleep, this custom-fitted mouthguard-like appliance repositions the tongue so that it doesn't block the airway. There is a variety of mechanisms, but most involve a hinge that positions the lower jaw forward, which in turn pulls the tongue away from the back of the throat.
These less invasive OAT devices may be an alternative to CPAP therapy for people who have mild to moderate OSA and find CPAP machines difficult to use. If you've been diagnosed with OSA and CPAP therapy hasn't been a good fit for you, speak with us about an OAT device. It could help you overcome this common disorder and get the deep sleep you need for a healthy mind and body.
If you would like more information about a dental approach to obstructive sleep apnea, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry.”
According to Forbes Magazine, Kylie Jenner is the world's youngest billionaire at age 22. Daughter of Caitlyn (Bruce) Jenner and Kris Jenner, Kylie is the founder and owner of the highly successful Kylie Cosmetics, and a rising celebrity in her own right. But even this busy CEO couldn't avoid an experience many young people her age go through each year: having her wisdom teeth removed.
At around 10 million removals each year, wisdom teeth extraction is the most common surgical procedure performed by oral surgeons. Also called the third molars, the wisdom teeth are in the back corners of the jaws, top and bottom. Most people have four of them, but some have more, some have fewer, and some never have any. They're typically the last permanent teeth to come in, usually between ages 17 and 25.
And therein lies the problem with wisdom teeth: Many times, they're coming in late on a jaw already crowded with teeth. Their eruption can cause these other teeth to move out of normal alignment, or the wisdom teeth themselves may not fully erupt and remain fully or partially within the gums (a condition called impaction). All of this can have a ripple effect, decreasing dental function and increasing disease risk.
As Kylie Jenner has just experienced, they're often removed when problems with bite or instances of diseases like tooth decay or gum disease begin to show. But not just when problems show: It's also been a common practice to remove them earlier in a kind of “preemptive strike” against dental dysfunction. But this practice of early wisdom teeth extraction has its critics. The main contention is that early extractions aren't really necessary from a medical or dental standpoint, and so patients are unduly exposed to surgical risks. Although negative outcomes are very rare, any surgical procedure carries some risk.
Over the last few years, a kind of middle ground consensus has developed among dentists on how to deal with wisdom teeth in younger patients. What has emerged is a “watch and wait” approach: Don't advise extraction unless there is clear evidence of developing problems. Instead, continue to monitor a young patient's dental development to see that it's progressing normally.
Taking this approach can lead to fewer early wisdom teeth extractions, which are postponed to a later time or even indefinitely. The key is to always do what's best for a patient's current development and future dental health.
Still, removing wisdom teeth remains a sound practice when necessary. Whether for a high school or college student or the CEO of a large company, wisdom teeth extraction can boost overall dental health and development.
If you would like more information about wisdom teeth and their impact on dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Wisdom Teeth: To Be or Not to Be?”
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