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.”
If your child has seen the dentist regularly, and brushed and flossed daily, there's a good chance they've avoided advanced tooth decay. But another problem might already be growing right under your nose—a poor dental bite (malocclusion).
A dental bite refers to the way the upper and lower teeth fit together. In a normal bite the teeth are in straight alignment, and the upper teeth slightly extend in front of and over the lower when the jaws are shut. But permanent teeth erupting out of position or a jaw developing abnormally can set the stage for a malocclusion.
Although the full effects of a malocclusion may not manifest until later, there may be signs of its development as early as age 6. If so, it may be possible to identify a budding bite problem and “intercept” it before it goes too far, correcting it or reducing its severity.
Here are 6 signs your school-age child could be developing a malocclusion.
Excessive spacing. If the spacing between teeth seems too wide, it could mean the size of your child's teeth are out of proportion with their jaw.
Underbite. Rather than the normal upper front teeth covering the lower, the lower teeth extend out and over the upper teeth.
Open bite. There's a space or gap between the upper and lower teeth even when the jaws are shut.
Crowding. Due to a lack of space on the jaw, incoming teeth don't have enough room to erupt and may come in misaligned or “crooked.”
Crossbites. Some of the lower teeth, either in front or back of the jaw, overlap the upper teeth, while the rest of the upper teeth overlap normally.
Protrusion or retrusion. This occurs if the upper front teeth or jaw appear too far forward (protrusion) or the lower teeth or jaw are positioned too far back (retrusion).
Besides watching out for the preceding signs yourself, it's also a good idea to have your child undergo a comprehensive bite evaluation with an orthodontist around age 6. If that does reveal something amiss with their bite, intervention now could correct or lessen the problem and future treatment efforts later.
When you were a kid, a plate of green beans or carrots probably seemed less appealing than a handful of cookies or a bowl of ice cream. Mom or dad telling you to “eat your vegetables” was the last thing you wanted to hear.
Hopefully, you've made friends with fresh fruits and vegetables as you've grown up. But even if you're just acquaintances, these foods are nonetheless essential to good health, particularly your teeth and gums. Among other things, they're packed with vitamins and minerals that help prevent tooth decay, gum disease or even oral cancer.
Here's a sampling of dental health-boosting micronutrients and the foods you'll find them in.
Vitamin C. Found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, vitamin C boosts the immune system to fight infections like tooth decay or gum disease. It's also an antioxidant that lowers your risk of cancer.
Calcium. This mineral obtained through dairy products, bony fish, greens and legumes, strengthens teeth and bones. It can also improve nerve and muscle function.
Vitamin D. This vitamin helps teeth absorb calcium to make them less prone to decay. You can find this essential vitamin in dairy foods, eggs, fatty fish or sunlight.
Phosphorus. Like calcium, phosphorus also strengthens teeth and bones. You'll find it plentiful in dairy and meats, especially seafood and poultry.
Magnesium. This mineral helps teeth and bones absorb other minerals and can also help with enzyme function needed to avoid disease. You'll find it in nuts, legumes, whole grains, dark leafy greens, seafood and chocolate.
If you don't think you're getting enough of these and other nutrients, you can obtain them through dietary supplements. But do be careful: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can remove harmful supplements from the market, but only after consumer use has provided evidence that they're unsafe. And, you won't be getting fiber or other elements found in regular foods that your body needs to be healthy and function properly.
Still, if you think you need to supplement a nutritional deficiency, speak first with your doctor or dentist about it and what you should take. If at all possible, though, eat your veggies—your teeth and gums, as well as the rest of your body, will be the healthier for it.
If you would like more information on nutrition's role in dental health, 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 “Vitamins & Dietary Supplements.”
Dental implants are a reliable way to replace teeth. More than 95% of implants survive ten years after their installation, and many of these could conceivably continue for decades.
But that still leaves a tiny few that don't reach the ten-year mark. Some fail early because the implant didn't integrate fully with the bone to create a durable hold. But others fail later—usually for one of two major causes.
Some failures occur due to over-stressing of the implant from abnormally high biting forces, usually because of teeth grinding. People who have this involuntary habit generate excessive force as they grind their teeth, which can damage implants (as well as natural teeth). To reduce this force, a patient's dentist can fit them with a biteguard they wear in the mouth to prevent teeth from making solid contact with each other during a grinding episode.
Fortunately, teeth grinding isn't that prevalent among adults—but that can't be said about the other major cause for implant failure: periodontal (gum) disease. This is a bacterial infection caused by dental plaque, a thin, bacterial film that accumulates on teeth. The implant itself isn't affected by the infection, but the gums and underlying bone supporting the implant can be.
Implants are most in peril from a form of gum disease called Peri-implantitis, which spreads deeper into the gum tissues around implants faster than infections around natural teeth. That's because implants lack the gum attachment of real teeth, which supply a collagen barrier that slows the spread of infection. Peri-implantitis can quickly infect the supporting bone and eventually weaken its connection with the implant.
Because of its aggressiveness and speed, we must diagnose and treat peri-implantitis as soon as possible to limit any damage to the support structures around an implant. If you notice any swollen, reddened or bleeding gums, you should call your dentist as soon as possible for an examination.
And in light of this potential danger to your implants, you should also strive to prevent gum disease through daily oral hygiene. Brushing and flossing your teeth, including around your implants, removes harmful plaque buildup. This daily habit and regular dental cleanings will help you avoid a costly gum infection and ensure your implants are there for years to come.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method That Rarely Fails.”
Chipped a tooth? Don't beat yourself up—this type of dental injury is quite common. In fact, you probably have a favorite celebrity who has chipped one or more of their teeth. The list is fairly long.
Some chipped a tooth away from the limelight, such as Tom Cruise (a hockey puck to the face as a teen), Jim Carrey (roughhousing on the playground) and Paul McCartney (a sudden stop with a moped). Others, though, chipped a tooth while “on the job.” Taylor Swift, Hillary Duff and Jennifer Lopez have all chipped a tooth on stage with a microphone. And chipped teeth seem to be an occupational hazard among professional athletes like former NFL star, Jerry Rice.
Since smiles are an indispensable asset to high-profile celebrities, you can be sure these stars have had those chipped teeth restored. The good news is the same procedures they've undergone are readily available for anyone. The two most common restorations for chipped teeth are dental bonding and veneers.
The least invasive way to fix a chipped tooth is bonding with a material known as composite resin. With this technique, resin is first mixed to match the tooth color and then applied to the chipped area or applied in layers of color to get just the right look. After a bit of shaping, curing and adjustment, we're done—you can walk out with a restored tooth in one visit.
Bonding works well with slight to moderate chips, but it could be less durable when there is more extensive damage. For that, you may want to consider porcelain veneers. Veneers are thin wafers of dental porcelain that are bonded to the front of teeth to mask blemishes like stains, slight gaps or, yes, chips. Veneers can be so lifelike that you won't be able to tell the veneered tooth from your other teeth. They are fashioned to match the color and shape of an individual's teeth. Because of the time and design detail involved, veneers are more expensive than bonding, yet still within an affordable range for many.
Teeth require some alteration before applying traditional veneers because otherwise the teeth can appear bulky when the veneer is bonded to the existing tooth. To compensate, we remove a little of the tooth enamel. Because this loss is permanent, you'll need to wear veneers or have some other form of restoration for the tooth from then on. For many people, though, that's a small price to pay for a smile without chips.
Your first step to repairing a chipped tooth is to come in for an examination. From there, we'll recommend the best option for your situation. And regardless of which, bonding or veneers, we can change your smile for the better.
If you would like more information about restoring injured teeth, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Whitening” and “Porcelain Veneers: Strength and Beauty as Never Before.”
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