Posts for: July, 2018
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
Barley malt, corn syrup, maltodextrin — these and over fifty other label ingredients are all names for refined sugar. Under its various aliases, this sweet carbohydrate is tucked away in three-quarters of packaged foods in the U.S.
Although in recent years the general health effects from too much sugar have gained the spotlight, its effect on dental health has been known for decades. Accumulated sugar in the mouth is a prime food source for bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease.
For both general and oral health, people have been looking to artificial alternatives to satisfy their sweet tooth. But do they have their own issues that can impact overall health? Here is an overview of some of the more popular brands of artificial sweeteners and their effect on health.
Saccharin — One of the most widely used artificial sweeteners, saccharin is often used under the names Sweet’N Low or Sugar Twin in low-calorie foods because it contains no calories. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) there are no associated health risks with consuming saccharin in recommended servings.
Aspartame — used commonly in beverages as Equal or NutraSweet, aspartame is unsuitable for cooking because its chemical structure breaks down under high heat. Although generally safe for consumption, it can affect people with a rare condition known as phenylketonuria that can’t adequately break down its chemicals.
Sucralose — marketed as Splenda, this sweetener is made by chemically altering refined table sugar so the body can’t process it. This may be one reason it has the most recognized natural flavor profile among consumers and is a market leader. It’s stable at high temperatures, so it’s often used in cooked or baked goods.
Stevia/Erythritol — this combination of an extract from the extremely sweet herb stevia and the sugar alcohol erythritol is marketed as Truvia. Unlike other calorie-free artificial sweeteners, this and other alcohol-based sweeteners have a low calorie level due to sugar alcohol’s characteristic of slow and incomplete absorption during digestion.
Xylitol — although all the previously mentioned sweeteners won’t promote bacterial growth like refined sugar, the sugar alcohol xylitol — often added to chewing gum and mints — has an added benefit: it may actually reduce levels of bacteria most likely to cause decay.
If you would like more information on the effect of sweeteners on 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 “Artificial Sweeteners.”
A critical part of effective, daily oral hygiene, flossing removes bacterial plaque from between teeth that can’t be accessed with brushing. Unfortunately, it’s often neglected — string flossing requires a bit more dexterity than brushing and can be difficult to do properly.
It can be even more difficult for people with implants or who wear orthodontic appliances. For brace wearers in particular, getting access to areas between teeth with string floss is next to impossible; the metal brackets and tension wire also have a tendency to catch and retain food debris that’s difficult to remove with brushing alone.
Water flossing, using a device called an oral irrigator, is an effective alternative that addresses many of these difficulties. First available for home use in the 1960s, an oral irrigator delivers pulsating water at high pressure through a handheld applicator that forcefully flushes material from between teeth.
There’s no question that string flossing is effective in plaque removal between teeth — but what about oral irrigators? A 2008 study looked at a group of orthodontic patients with braces who used oral irrigators and compared them with a similar group that only brushed. The study found that five times as much plaque was removed in the group using the oral irrigators as opposed to the group only brushing.
Oral irrigators may also be effective for people who’ve developed periodontal (gum) disease. In fact, oral irrigators coupled with ultra-sound devices are routinely used by dental hygienists to remove plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) in periodontal patients. As with regular oral hygiene, though, it’s important for patients with gum disease to include water flossing with daily brushing (at least twice a day) and regular cleaning sessions at the dentist to ensure removal of all plaque and calculus.
If you’re interested in using an oral irrigator, be sure to consult with us at your next appointment. Not only can we recommend features to look for in equipment, but we can also instruct you on the techniques to make water flossing an effective plaque remover.
If you would like more information on water flossing, 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 “Cleaning Between Your Teeth.”