Category Archives: Oral Health

Recognizing the Symptoms of Oral Cancer Could Save Your Life

oral cancer.

Oral cancer isn’t picky: Its victims have included Motown singers and rock-n-roll guitarists, baseball players and film critics, one-half of TV’s “Odd Couple” and two U.S. Presidents. And while it’s still true that the majority of people who get it are older men who habitually smoke and drink, the fastest-growing group of new patients are young people of both sexes who don’t. That’s why it’s so important to learn about the early symptoms of oral cancer — and what better time to do so than in April, which is Oral Cancer Awareness Month?

First, some numbers: In the United States, around 50,000 people are newly diagnosed with oral cancer each year, and one person dies from the disease every hour of every day. Oral cancer is two times as common in men as it is in women, and has three major risk factors: the use of tobacco in any form; the habitual consumption of alcohol; and exposure to HPV-16, the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus. Its overall 5-year survival rate is just slightly above 50%. But if caught early, the odds of successful treatment are much better.

Dentists perform oral cancer screenings at routine exams. But it’s still a good idea to do a monthly self-exam for oral cancer at home. Here’s how:

  • First, get a hand-held mirror and a bright light. Remove any dentures or oral appliances, and then open wide.
  • You’re looking for white, red or discolored patches, persistent sores, or other abnormal features.
  • Examine your lips and gums, the lining of your mouth and cheeks, and your tongue.
  • Gently pull your tongue forward and pull lips away from teeth, so you can see them from all sides.
  • Feel all oral surfaces to check for any lumps, bumps or unusual masses.
  • Feel both sides of the neck and lower jaw for swellings or enlarged lymph nodes.
  • Be alert for chronic sore throat, hoarseness, or difficulty chewing, swallowing or speaking.

According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, the high mortality rate of this disease doesn’t stem from its being hard to diagnose: It results from the cancer not being discovered until it has reached a later stage, when it’s harder to treat. That’s why recognizing the warning signs are so important. While the same mild symptoms are often caused by benign (non- serious) conditions, it takes a medical professional (and possibly a biopsy or other test) to make a definite diagnosis. So if you notice something suspicious, don’t wait: tell us right away. It might just save your life.

If you have questions about oral cancer, please contact us by calling (815) 741-1700 for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article Oral Cancer.

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month

oral cancer.

This April marks the 14th observance of Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Yet there are still plenty of people who underestimate the seriousness of oral cancer, don’t know the warning signs, and are unsure where to get screening or treatment for this potentially deadly disease. It’s true that oral cancer doesn’t have as high a profile as some other cancers — but thanks to the efforts of educational foundations, medical professionals, and celebrities like actress Blythe Danner and baseball superstar Tony Gwynn (1960-2014), it significance is increasingly being recognized.

How common is oral cancer? According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, some 50,000 Americans will be diagnosed with this illness in the current year. Five years from now, slightly more than half of those people will still be alive. That’s one of the most troubling aspects of the disease: Its survival rate is much lower than that of more well-known cancers — like breast or cervical cancer, or Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A major reason for those discouraging odds is that oral cancer isn’t generally found until it has reached a later stage of development, when it’s harder to treat successfully.

That’s why early diagnosis of oral cancer is so important — and why it’s vital to become aware of possible warning signs of the disease. The first symptoms are often relatively minor:  a red or white patch or a sore on the tongue, lips or the inside of the mouth, that doesn’t go away within 14 days; an unusual lump or mass in the mouth or neck; or difficulty eating, speaking or swallowing. While these symptoms are common and most often benign, they can also indicate an early stage of oral cancer.

Fortunately, dentists are trained to recognize the early signs of oral cancer, and we can often identify possible signs of the disease in its initial stages. We perform oral cancer screenings at routine dental exams, but you can also come in for an examination any time you have a concern. The good news is that recent advances in diagnosing oral cancer offer the hope that more people will get appropriate, timely treatment for this potentially deadly disease.

If you have questions about oral cancer, please contact us by calling (815) 741-1700 for a consultation. Learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article Oral Cancer.

Baseball Fan Catches Her Own Knocked-Out Tooth

fan.

When your favorite baseball team wins, it’s hard not to get excited — especially if you’re right there in the stadium. It’s even better when a player tosses the ball to fans. But sometimes, in the heat of the moment, things can go awry.

That’s what happened during a recent game at New York’s Yankee Stadium. After catching the ball that ended the game in an 8-2 Dodgers win, Los Angeles outfielder Yasiel Puig tossed it into a cheering crowd of supporters. “I saw it coming at me and I remember thinking, ‘I don’t have a glove to catch this ball,’” Dodgers fan Alyssa Gerharter told the New York Daily News. “I felt it hit me and I could feel immediately with my tongue there’s a hole. And I looked down at my hand and saw there’s a tooth in my hand.”

Ouch. Just like that, one fan’s dream became… a not-so-good dream. But fortunately for the 25-year-old software engineer, things went uphill from there. Ushers quickly escorted her into a first-aid room at the stadium. She was then rushed to a nearby hospital, where the upper front tooth was re-inserted into her jaw. After a follow-up appointment at her dentist’s office the next day, Gerharter said she remains hopeful the re-inserted tooth will fuse with the bone, and won’t require replacement.

We hope so too. And in fact, she has as good a chance of a successful outcome as anyone, because she did everything right. If you’re not sure what to do about a knocked-out tooth, here are the basics:

  • locate the tooth, handle it carefully (don’t touch the root surface), and if possible gently clean it with water
  • try to open the person’s mouth and find the place where the tooth came from
  • carefully re-insert the tooth in its socket if possible, making sure it is facing the right way
  • hold the tooth in place with a soft cloth as you rush to the dental office or the nearest urgent care facility
  • if it can’t be replaced in its socket, place the tooth in a special preservative solution or milk, or have the person hold it between the cheek and gum (making sure they won’t swallow it) — and then seek immediate care at the dental office
  • follow up at the dental office as recommended

In general, the quicker you perform these steps, the more likely it is that the tooth can be preserved. How quick is quick? The best outcomes are expected when re-implantation occurs in no more than five minutes. So if you’re in this situation, don’t wait: get (or give) appropriate first aid right away — it just might save a tooth!

If you would like more information about what to do in a dental emergency, please contact us by calling (815) 741-1700 for a consultation. You can learn more the Dear Doctor articles “Knocked Out Tooth,” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”

In Today’s NFL, Oral Hygiene Takes Center Stage

hygiene.

Everyone knows that in the game of football, quarterbacks are looked up to as team leaders. That’s why we’re so pleased to see some NFL QB’s setting great examples of… wait for it… excellent oral hygiene.

First, at the 2016 season opener against the Broncos, Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers was spotted on the bench; in his hands was a strand of dental floss. In between plays, the 2105 MVP was observed giving his hard-to-reach tooth surfaces a good cleaning with the floss.

Later, Buffalo Bills QB Tyrod Taylor was seen on the sideline of a game against the 49ers — with a bottle of mouthwash. Taylor took a swig, swished it around his mouth for a minute, and spit it out. Was he trying to make his breath fresher in the huddle when he called out plays?

Maybe… but in fact, a good mouthrinse can be much more than a short-lived breath freshener.

Cosmetic rinses can leave your breath with a minty taste or pleasant smell — but the sensation is only temporary. And while there’s nothing wrong with having good-smelling breath, using a cosmetic mouthwash doesn’t improve your oral hygiene — in fact, it can actually mask odors that may indicate a problem, such as tooth decay or gum disease.

Using a therapeutic mouthrinse, however, can actually enhance your oral health. Many commonly available therapeutic rinses contain anti-cariogenic (cavity-fighting) ingredients, such as fluoride; these can help prevent tooth decay and cavity formation by strengthening tooth enamel. Others contain antibacterial ingredients; these can help control the harmful oral bacteria found in plaque — the sticky film that can build up on your teeth in between cleanings. Some antibacterial mouthrinses are available over-the-counter, while others are prescription-only. When used along with brushing and flossing, they can reduce gum disease (gingivitis) and promote good oral health.

So why did Taylor rinse? His coach Rex Ryan later explained that he was cleaning out his mouth after a hard hit, which may have caused some bleeding. Ryan also noted, “He [Taylor] does have the best smelling breath in the league for any quarterback.” The coach didn’t explain how he knows that — but never mind. The takeaway is that a cosmetic rinse may be OK for a quick fix — but when it comes to good oral hygiene, using a therapeutic mouthrinse as a part of your daily routine (along with flossing and brushing) can really step up your game.

If you would like more information about mouthrinses and oral hygiene, please contact us by calling (815) 741-1700 for a consultation.

Any Time, Any Place: Cam Newton’s Guide to Flossing

cam.

When is the best time to floss your teeth: Morning? Bedtime? How about: whenever and wherever the moment feels right?

For Cam Newton, award-winning NFL quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, the answer is clearly the latter. During the third quarter of the 2016 season-opener between his team and the Denver Broncos, TV cameras focused on Newton as he sat on the bench. The 2015 MVP was clearly seen stretching a string of dental floss between his index fingers and taking care of some dental hygiene business… and thereby creating a minor storm on the internet.

Inappropriate? We don’t think so. As dentists, we’re always happy when someone comes along to remind people how important it is to floss. And when that person has a million-dollar smile like Cam Newton’s — so much the better.

Of course, there has been a lot of discussion lately about flossing. News outlets have gleefully reported that there’s a lack of hard evidence at present to show that flossing is effective. But we would like to point out that, as the saying goes, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” There are a number of reasons why health care organizations like the American Dental Association (ADA) still firmly recommend daily flossing. Here are a few:

  • It’s well established that when plaque is allowed to build up on teeth, tooth decay and gum disease are bound to follow.
  • A tooth brush does a good job of cleaning most tooth surfaces, but it can’t reach into spaces between teeth.
  • Cleaning between teeth (interdental cleaning) has been shown to remove plaque and food debris from these hard-to-reach spaces.
  • Dental floss isn’t the only method for interdental cleaning… but it is recognized by dentists as the best way, and is an excellent method for doing this at home — or anywhere else!

Whether you use dental floss or another type of interdental cleaner is up to you. But the ADA stands by its recommendations for maintaining good oral health: Brush twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste; visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and checkups; and clean between teeth once a day with an interdental cleaner like floss. It doesn’t matter if you do it in your own home, or on the sidelines of an NFL game… as long as you do it!

If you would like more information about flossing and oral hygiene, please contact us by calling (815) 741-1700 for a consultation.

4 Things You Should be Doing to Maintain a Healthy Mouth

flossing.

Regular dental visits are an important part of maintaining healthy teeth and gums. But it’s what goes on between those visits — daily hygiene and care — that are the real ounce of prevention.

Here are 4 things you should be doing every day to keep your mouth healthy.

Use the right toothbrush and technique. Brushing with fluoride toothpaste at least once every day is a must for removing plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles which is the main cause of dental disease. Your efforts are more effective if you use a soft-bristled, multi-tufted brush that’s replaced often, especially when bristles become splayed and worn. To remove the most plaque and avoid damaging your gums, brush with a gentle, circular motion for at least two minutes over all tooth surfaces.

Don’t forget to floss. Your toothbrush can get to most but not all the plaque on your teeth. Flossing — either with flossing string, pre-loaded flossers or a water irrigator — helps remove plaque from between teeth. Don’t rely on toothpicks either — they can’t do the job flossing can do to remove plaque.

Mind your habits. We all develop certain behavioral patterns — like snacking, for instance. Constant snacking on foods with added sugar (a major food source for bacteria) increases your disease risk. Consider healthier snacks with fresh fruits or dairy, and restrict sugary foods to mealtimes (and the same for sports and energy drinks, which have high acid levels). Stop habits like tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption or chewing on hard objects, all of which can damage your teeth and gums and create a hostile environment in your mouth.

Watch for abnormalities. If you pay attention, you may be able to notice early signs of problems. Bleeding, inflamed or painful gums could indicate you’re brushing too hard — or, more likely, the early stages of periodontal (gum) disease. Tooth pain could signal decay. And sores, lumps or other spots on your lips, tongue or inside of your mouth and throat could be a sign of serious disease. You should contact us if you see anything out of the ordinary.

If you would like more information on how to care for your teeth and gums, please contact us by calling (815) 741-1700 for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”

Find Out Why You or Your Partner Snores – it may be Sleep Apnea

snoring.

If your sleeping partner snores, it could be more than an annoyance: it could be a sign of sleep apnea. This occurs when air flow into the lungs becomes obstructed in the throat for a few seconds during sleep. The obstruction can take many forms, but a common one arises from the tongue relaxing against the back of the throat, producing snoring sounds as air attempts to pass through this restricted area.

Sleep apnea can cause severe problems: lower daily energy levels and mood from poor sleep; lower oxygen saturation that could affect brain function; and increased risk for cardiovascular disease. So, if you’re awakened by your partner’s snoring (or they’re complaining about yours!), it’s important to have it checked and treated.

This begins with a visit to us for a complete oral examination. Like many dentists, we’re well trained in the anatomy and structures of the mouth, as well as the causes and treatment of sleep apnea. We’ll examine your mouth, take into account any possible symptoms you’re experiencing and, if your suspicions are correct, refer you to a sleep physician to diagnose if you have sleep apnea.

Treatment will depend on its cause and severity. An oral appliance worn during sleep is the recommended first treatment for mild to moderate sleep apnea that involves the tongue as an obstruction. We develop a custom appliance that helps move your tongue away from the back of the throat, reducing both apnea and snoring sounds. For more advanced sleep apnea you could benefit from a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine. This device generates continuous air pressure through a mask worn while sleeping that helps keep the airway open.

Of course, there are other causes for obstruction, some of which may require surgical intervention to relieve the problem. Abnormally large tonsils, adenoids or excessive soft tissue can all restrict air flow. Surgically removing or altering these structures could help reduce airway restriction.

Whatever type or degree of sleep apnea you or your partner may have, there are solutions. The right treatment will not only improve overall health, it will help both of you get a better night’s sleep.

If you would like more information on sleep apnea and how to treat it, please contact us by calling (815) 741-1700 for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “If You Snore, You Must Read More!

Limit Sugar in Your Diet for Better Oral and General Health

sugar.

Even after decades emphasizing oral hygiene and supplemental fluoride to fight dental disease, we’re now seeing an increase in tooth decay, especially among children. What’s causing this alarming trend?

Many in both the dental and medical professions link this and other health problems to a rise in the amount and consumption of sugar added to food products. A number of years ago our annual average consumption of added sugar was about 4 pounds per person; today, it’s closer to 90 pounds.

The increase in sugar consumption can be traced to the 1970s when the food industry began adding more sugar to make processed foods stripped of oils and fats taste better. Today, 77% of the approximately 600,000 food items sold in the United States contain some form of sugar (under a variety of names).

This additional sugar, however, has produced an unintended consequence: sugar triggers the release of a brain chemical called dopamine that regulates our sense of reward when we engage in a desirable behavior. The excess dopamine creates a weak addiction to sugar, which then leads to overconsumption, contributing to our current obesity epidemic and the rise in health problems like heart disease or Type 2 diabetes. This is especially alarming among children: thirty years ago Type 2 diabetes was unheard of among children — today there are over 55,000 diagnosed pediatric cases.

For both you and your family’s general and dental health, you should consider ways to reduce your sugar intake: purchase and eat most of your food from the “outer edges” of your supermarket — meats, dairy, and fresh vegetables and fruits (which do contain the sugar fructose, but are mostly fiber that slows the liver’s processing of the sugar); limit processed foods with added sugar, and learn to recognize its inclusion in products by reading ingredients labels. You should also be wary of sweetened beverages such as sodas, sports drinks, teas or juices, and try to drink more water.

The recommended daily sugar consumption is less than six teaspoons a day (about two-thirds the amount in one can of soda). By restricting this consumption, you’ll improve your general health and reduce your risk for dental disease.

If you would like more information on the general and dental health effects of sugar, please contact us by calling (630) 352-0242.

Sleep Apnea and Behavioral Problems in Children: How Your Dentist Can Help

sleep apnea in children.

We all know how much better we feel after a good night’s sleep: refreshed, energized and ready to handle — even excel at — our day-to-day responsibilities. Yet millions of people, young and old, are robbed of a good night’s rest by sleep-related breathing disorders such as sleep apnea, in which the soft tissues in the back of the throat block the airway during sleep. This temporarily disrupts airflow, causing numerous “micro-arousals” (sleep interruptions) that we may not even be aware of. A lack of sleep can make us drowsy, irritable and unfocused. In children, these typical symptoms of sleep apnea can lead to mistaken diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The relationship between sleep apnea and behavioral problems has been highlighted in several recent scientific journal articles, including a major study published several years ago in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The lead author, Dr. Karen Bonuck, said at the time: “We found that children with sleep-disordered breathing were from 40 to 100 percent more likely to develop neurobehavioral problems by age 7, compared with children without breathing problems. The biggest increase was in hyperactivity, but we saw significant increases across [other] behavioral measures.” Therefore, an accurate diagnosis of a child’s behavioral problems — leading to the right treatment — is crucial. While sleep apnea must be diagnosed by a physician, treatment for the condition is often provided by a dentist.

What can be done for children suffering from sleep apnea? The most common treatment is surgical removal of the tonsils or adenoids. This treatment can be performed by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, a dentist who has received several years of post-graduate surgical training. There are several other procedures oral surgeons can perform to open the airway, depending on what anatomical structures are blocking it.

Sometimes a child with sleep apnea can benefit from a procedure to expand the palate (roof of the mouth) to enlarge the airway. This is not a surgical treatment but rather an orthodontic one. An orthodontist (a dentist who specializes in moving teeth) will fit the child with a palatal expander, a butterfly-shaped device that gradually separates the two bones that form the upper jaw and roof of the mouth. This is often done to prevent crowding of teeth and other bite problems, but has been shown in some cases to improve airflow.

There is another dental approach used to treat adults and older children, whose jaw growth is complete. It’s called oral appliance therapy, and it involves wearing a custom-made device during sleep that resembles a sports mouthguard or orthodontic retainer. An oral appliance can maintain an opened, unobstructed, upper airway during sleep in various ways, including: repositioning the lower jaw, tongue, soft palate and uvula; stabilizing the lower jaw and tongue; increasing the muscle tone of the tongue.

If your child has been diagnosed with sleep apnea, we can help you find the best treatment approach. For more information, please contact us by calling (815) 741-1700. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry” and “Snoring & Sleep Apnea.”

Your Dentist can Help Guide you in the Best Treatment Option for Sleep Apnea

sleep apnea.

Do you still feel tired or unfocused even after a full night’s sleep? Do others complain about your snoring? It’s possible these are signs that you may have sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a condition in which you stop breathing while you sleep. Your brain will awaken you to breathe, although you may not consciously realize it since the waking period can be less than a second. But it does disrupt your sleep rhythm, especially during the all-important deep sleep period called Rapid Eye Movement (REM). These disruptions don’t allow your body to receive the full benefit of sleep, hence your lack of energy and focus during the day.

One of the most common causes for sleep apnea is the collapse of soft tissues near the throat as they relax during sleep that restrict the airway. Snoring is an indication this may be occurring: air vibrates rapidly (and loudly) as it passes through this restriction when you breathe in.

As your dentist, we’re well-trained in the anatomy and function of the entire oral structure, and qualified to offer solutions for sleep apnea. If you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea (after a complete examination, including an observation session at a sleep laboratory), we can then help you decide on a treatment approach. The following are three such options, depending on the severity of your sleep apnea.

Oral Appliance Therapy. An oral appliance you wear while you sleep is a first line treatment for mild or moderate sleep apnea. The appliance, which we custom design for you, helps hold the lower jaw in a forward position: this moves the tongue and other soft structures away from the back of the throat, thereby opening the airway.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). Intended for more moderate to severe forms of sleep apnea, a CPAP machine produces continuous air pressure to the throat through a mask you wear during sleep. This forces the tongue forward and the airway open.

Surgical Intervention. These procedures remove excess tissue that may be obstructing the airway. Due to its invasiveness and permanent alteration of the throat area, surgery is reserved for patients who haven’t responded to other therapies in a satisfactory manner.

Whether mild or severe, it’s possible to effectively treat sleep apnea. If successful, not only will you benefit from better sleep and greater alertness, you’ll also improve your long-term health.

If you would like more information on treating sleep apnea, please contact us by calling (815) 741-1700. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry.”