Oral cancer is one of the more dangerous malignancies people face. But there are ways you can reduce your risk of this deadly disease through changes in lifestyle habits and behaviors.
Two of the better known behaviors for increased oral cancer risk are immoderate consumption of alcohol and the use of tobacco, particularly chewing tobacco and snuff. Eliminating these, especially the latter, can vastly improve your odds of avoiding cancer. Another factor is a strain of the human papilloma virus (HPV 16) that's transmitted sexually, which you can avoid through safe sex practices.
In addition to these lifestyle changes, there's one more you should make to lower your oral cancer risk: adjustments to your diet. Research over the last half century has provided ample evidence of a link between the foods we eat and our risk of all types of cancers, including oral.
The biggest concern is over certain elements in some foods that can damage DNA, the molecular “operating instructions” that regulate the formation and function of our bodies' cells. These elements are collectively known as carcinogens because of their role in cancer formation.
An example of a carcinogen is a group of chemicals called nitrosamines. These form during preservation processes using nitrites in meats like bacon or ham. They're also found in beer or certain preserved fish. To limit your consumption of nitrosamines, you should reduce these and other processed products and replace them with fresh fruits and vegetables, or organic meats and dairy products.
Our DNA can also be damaged by unstable molecules called free radicals that arise during normal cellular function. But there are also substances known as antioxidants that help protect the cells from free radical damage. Many plant-based foods contain nutrients like vitamins C and E that have antioxidant properties, so including them in your diet could help reduce your oral cancer risk.
Several clinical studies over the years have been consistent in their findings that a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of oral or throat cancers, as well as other forms of cancer. Making changes to your diet in that direction, plus other lifestyle changes, could help you avoid this devastating oral disease.
If you would like more information on preventing oral cancer, 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 “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
Straightening your teeth with braces or other orthodontic gear is a positive step toward a healthier and more attractive smile. You'll likely be pleased with your smile when they're removed.
But you may also notice something peculiar once the braces are off—dull, white spots on your teeth. These spots, usually located under or around braces hardware, are where mouth acid has “demineralized” calcium and other minerals in the enamel. As beginning tooth decay, these spots are a sign your hygiene efforts weren't sufficient in cleaning your teeth of plaque.
In many cases, the spots will improve on their own after the braces are removed. We can also strengthen the enamel with fluoride pastes or gels, or inject tooth-colored resin within the spot to restore the enamel's translucence and improve appearance.
But the best approach is to try to prevent white spots from occurring at all. Here's what you need to do.
Keep up your oral hygiene. Even though more difficult with braces, you still need to brush and floss to protect your teeth from tooth decay. To make it easier, take advantage of special brushes designed to clean around orthodontic brackets and wires. A floss threader can also help you better access between teeth—or switch to a water flosser instead of floss thread.
Practice a “tooth-friendly” diet. A diet high in sugar and acid could short-circuit your best hygiene efforts. Certain beverages are big offenders: sodas, energy and sports drinks, and even “natural” juices. Instead, eat foods high in vitamins and minerals like fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and low-fat dairy.
Get your teeth cleaned regularly. While you're seeing your orthodontist for scheduled adjustments, don't neglect regular cleanings with your family dentist. Professional cleanings at least every six months reduce the risk of dental disease. These regular visits are also a good time for your dentist to check your teeth for any signs of dental problems associated with your braces.
It's not easy to keep your teeth clean while wearing braces, but it can be done. With help from a few handy tools and continuing care from your dental professionals, you can avoid unsightly white spots.
If you would like more information on dental care while wearing braces, 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 “White Spots on Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”
If you're a parent, raising kids can be a great adventure. It can also rev up your stress meter in a heartbeat. One area in particular can give you heartburn: your child's lack of enthusiasm for visiting the dentist.
Dental anxiety in varying degrees in children isn't uncommon. At times, it can be difficult for everyone involved for a child to receive the dental care they need if they're in an upset or agitated state. Fortunately, though, there are things you can do to minimize your child's dental anxiety.
First, start regular dental visits as early as possible, usually around their first birthday. Children who begin seeing the dentist earlier rather than later are more apt to find the sights, sounds and other experiences of a dental office a routine part of life.
You might also consider using a pediatric dentist for your child. Pediatric dentists specialize in child dental care, and have specific training and experience interacting with children. Pediatric dental offices are also usually “kid friendly” with toys, videos, books and interior decorations that children find appealing.
Your attitude and demeanor during a dental visit can also have an effect on your child. Children in general take their cues for how to feel from their caregivers. If you're nervous and tense while with them at the dentist, they may take that as a sign they should feel the same way. In contrast, if you're calm and relaxed, it may help them to be calm and relaxed.
Along the same lines, your attitude and level of commitment to dental care, both at home and at the dentist, will rub off on them. The best way to do that is by setting the example: not only as you brush and floss every day, but during your own dental visits. Take them with you: If they see you're not anxious about your care, it may improve their own feelings about their care.
The main goal is to try to make your child's overall dental experience as positive and pleasant as possible. The benefits of this can extend far beyond the present moment into their adult lives.
If you would like more information on your child's dental care, 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 “Taking the Stress Out of Dentistry for Kids.”
Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara had a rough Stanley Cup final against the St. Louis Blues this past June. Not only did the Bruins ultimately lose the championship, but Chara took a deflected puck shot to the face in Game Four that broke his jaw.
With the NHL season now over, the 42-year-old Bruins captain continues to mend from his injury that required extensive treatment. His experience highlights how jaw fractures and related dental damage are an unfortunate hazard in hockey—not only for pros like Chara, but also for an estimated half million U.S. amateurs, many in youth leagues.
Ice hockey isn't the only sport with this injury potential: Basketball, football (now gearing up with summer training) and even baseball players are also at risk. That's why appropriate protective gear like helmets and face shields are key to preventing injury.
For any contact sport, that protection should also include a mouthguard to absorb hard contact forces that could damage the mouth, teeth and gums. The best guards (and the most comfortable fit) are custom-made by a dentist based on impressions made of the individual's mouth.
But even with adequate protection, an injury can still happen. Here's what you should do if your child has an injury to their jaw, mouth or teeth.
Recognize signs of a broken jaw. A broken jaw can result in severe pain, swelling, difficulty speaking, numbness in the chin or lower lip or the teeth not seeming to fit together properly. You may also notice bleeding in the mouth, as well as bruising under the tongue or a cut in the ear canal resulting from jawbone movement during the fracture. Get immediate medical attention if you notice any of these signs.
Take quick action for a knocked-out tooth. A tooth knocked completely out of its socket is a severe dental injury. But you may be able to ultimately save the tooth by promptly taking the following steps: (1) find the tooth and pick it up without touching the root end, (2) rinse it off, (3) place it back in its socket with firm pressure, and (4) see a dentist as soon as possible.
Seek dental care. Besides the injuries already mentioned, you should also see a dentist for any moderate to severe trauma to the mouth, teeth and gums. Leading the list: any injury that results in tooth chipping, looseness or movement out of alignment.
Even a top athlete like Zdeno Chara isn't immune to injury. Take steps then to protect your amateur athlete from a dental or facial injury.
If you would like more information about dealing with sports-related dental injuries, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
Every year 150,000 people, mostly women over age 50, find out they have a painful condition called trigeminal neuralgia. For many it begins as an occasional twinge along the face that steadily worsens until the simple act of chewing or speaking, or even a light touch, sets off excruciating pain.
The source of the pain is the pair of trigeminal nerves that course along each side of the face. Each nerve has three separate branches that provide sensation to the upper, middle and lower areas of the face and jaw.
The problem arises when areas of the myelin sheath, a fatty, insulating covering on nerves, becomes damaged, often because of an artery or vein pressing against it. As a result, the nerve can become hypersensitive to stimuli and transmit pain at even the slightest trigger. It may also fail to stop transmitting even after the stimulation that caused it is over.
Although the condition may not always be curable, there are various ways to effectively manage it. The most conservative way is with medications that block the nerve from transmitting pain signals to the brain, coupled with drugs that help stabilize the nerve and decrease abnormal firing.
If medication isn't enough to relieve symptoms, there may be some benefit from more invasive treatments. One technique is to insert a thin needle into the nerve to selectively damage nerve fibers to prevent them from firing. Another microsurgical procedure attempts to relocate the nerve away from a blood vessel that may be compressing it.
The latter procedure has some higher risks such as facial numbness or decreased hearing, and is often better suited for younger patients. Older patients may benefit more from the needle insertion procedure previously mentioned or a directed beam of high-dose radiation to alter the nerve.
To learn the best options for you, you should first undergo a neurological exam to verify you have trigeminal neuralgia and to rule out other causes. From there, you and your doctor can decide the best course of treatment for your age and individual condition.
Trigeminal neuralgia can be an unpleasant experience. But there are tried and true ways to minimize its effect on your life.
If you would like more information on trigeminal neuralgia, 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 “Trigeminal Neuralgia.”
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