With college, a full-time job and an upcoming wedding to plan, Brooke Vitense had the hectic life of an average young woman in her twenties. But a chance discovery one morning would completely upend her normal life.
That morning Brook noticed white spots on the underside of her tongue while brushing her teeth. Not long after, she pointed out the spots to her dentist during her regular dental checkup. He recommended having the spots biopsied, just to be safe. She needed a wisdom tooth removed, so she scheduled the biopsy with her oral surgeon to coincide with the tooth extraction.
She soon forgot about the biopsy — until her dentist contacted her about the results. The lesions were pre-cancerous: he recommended she have them and a portion of her tongue removed surgically as soon as possible.
She underwent the procedure, but that wasn't the end of her ordeal. The follow-up pathology report indicated cancerous cells in the tissue excised during the procedure. To ensure elimination of any remaining cancerous cells they would need to remove more of her tongue as well as the lymph nodes from her neck.
Brooke survived her cancer experience and has since resumed her life. Her story, though, highlights some important facts about oral cancer.
Oral cancer is life-threatening. Although cases of oral cancer are rarer than other types of malignancies, the survival rate is low (50%). This is because lesions or other abnormalities are often dismissed as simple sores. Like any cancer, the earlier it's detected and treated, the better the chances for survival.
Anyone of any age can develop oral cancer. While most cases occur in older adults, young and otherwise healthy people like Brooke are not immune. It's important for everyone to make healthy lifestyle choices (good oral hygiene and nutrition, moderate alcohol use and avoidance of tobacco) and see a dentist whenever you see an abnormal sore or spot in your mouth.
Regular dental checkups are crucial for early detection. Had Brooke not seen her dentist soon after discovering the spots on her tongue, her survivability could have been drastically lower. Regular dental visits (and cancer screenings if you're at high risk) could mean all the difference in the world.
If you would like more information on the signs and treatment of oral cancer, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can watch Brooke's interview by visiting How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life
Do-it-yourself (DIY) whitening kits are a popular option for restoring a healthy shine to stained and dulled teeth. They're relatively safe and generally live up to their packaging claims.
But a home kit might not always be your best option. Here are 4 reasons why DIY whitening might not be right for you.
You're on the early side of your teen years. Tooth whitening at home is quite popular with teenagers. For older teens it doesn't really pose a dental risk as long as you use the product appropriately (more on that in a moment). However, the immature enamel of younger teens' permanent teeth is still developing and can be vulnerable to damage by whitening processes.
You don't follow instructions well. Not to say you have this particular character quirk — but if you do you may run into trouble with DIY whitening. Home kits are safe if you follow their instructions carefully. If you use them to excess as one 13-year old boy was reported to have done, you could severely (and permanently) erode your teeth's protective enamel.
Your teeth are in need of dental work. Tooth whitening can't fix everything that may be contributing to an unattractive smile. It's always better to have issues like dental disease or chipped teeth addressed first before whitening. And, if your tooth discoloration originates from inside your tooth, a whitening kit won't help — they're only designed for staining on the enamel's outside surface. You'll need a special dental procedure to whiten internal (or intrinsic) tooth staining.
You want to control the amount of brightness. Home kits don't have the level of fine-tuning that a clinical procedure can achieve. While the bleaching agent in a professional whitening solution is much stronger than a home kit, your dentist is trained in techniques that can vary the amount of bleaching, from a softer white to dazzling “Hollywood” bright. And clinical whitening usually takes fewer sessions and may last longer than a home kit.
If you're interested in teeth whitening, see your dentist for a dental examination first before purchasing a DIY kit. Even if you decide to do it yourself, your dentist can give you buying advice for whitening kits, as well as how-to tips.
If you would like more information on tooth whitening, 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 “Tooth Whitening Safety Tips.”
If you've known anyone who has worn braces, you know what comes after — wearing a retainer. This can be kind of a letdown after all those months with braces, but it's absolutely necessary.
That's because teeth have a tendency to “rebound” to their pre-orthodontic positions once the force to move them stops after the braces are removed. Retainers help keep or “retain” moved teeth in their new positions and prevent them from reverting to the old.
When you think “retainer,” you probably picture a removable appliance with a wire that fits over the front of the teeth. While that may be the most common type, it isn't the only one. There's another called a bonded retainer, a thin piece of wire bonded to the back of the teeth that need to be retained. Unlike the other type, a dentist must remove a bonded retainer when it's no longer needed.
The biggest advantage of a bonded retainer is its invisibility — the wire is behind the teeth so no one can see it as with a removable retainer. The wire is bonded to the teeth with a dental composite material and then light-cured to create a strong attachment.
Another advantage is especially pertinent to younger patients. Because it's permanently attached and can't be taken out, there's no constant reminding of the patient to wear it — and no more worries about replacing a lost one.
They can, though, be difficult to floss around leading to potential plaque buildup that increases disease risk. It's very important you receive proper hygiene instruction for cleaning under the bonded retainer. Another concern is that they can break under excessive chewing pressure. And as with the more common retainer, we wouldn't want to remove it as that will result in the teeth's relapse to their old positions.
To learn which retainer is best for your situation, you should discuss the options with your orthodontist. Regardless of which type you choose, though, a retainer is a must for protecting your investment in that new smile.
If you would like more information on orthodontics and retainers, 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 “Bonded Retainers.”
Since their introduction over thirty years ago, dental implants have become the most popular choice for dental restoration. Their large variety of shapes and sizes — a far cry from the limited choices of the 1980s — has only served to increase their popularity.
In recent years there's also been an expansion in their applicability. Most people recognize them as replacements for individual teeth — but they can do much more. They're now playing a pivotal role in other dental restorations or situations.
Here are 3 of those “cutting edge” ways implants could change your dental health and smile for the better.
Fixed bridgework. In a traditional bridge, prosthetic (false) teeth use the natural teeth on either side of the empty space for support. In this updated version, implants become the support base for the bridge. For example, a bridge as small as three crowns can be supported by two implants attached to the outside crowns of the bridge. Four to eight implants can support a bridge as large as an entire arch of teeth.
Over-dentures. In cases of significant bone loss, a full or partial denture may be a better option than a fixed bridge. Traditional dentures, though, can contribute to even more bone loss, which can cause the dentures to eventually lose their fit. Implants not only can help stop further bone loss but can also stimulate increased bone density. Two or more standard or mini-sized-sized implants can support a full or partial denture.
Orthodontics anchorage. People with missing teeth aren't the only ones who can benefit from implants. While most bite repairs only require the back teeth to provide anchorage for braces, certain complex bites may need a different point of anchorage. Orthodontists can create a more feasible anchorage point with an implant or a temporary anchorage device (TAD) imbedded in the jaw. This can help isolate teeth that need to be moved from those on the arch that don't.
If you would like more information about how dental implants could improve your dental health and appearance, 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: Your Best Option for Replacing Teeth.”
One of the top concerns in public health today is exposure to the metallic element mercury within the environment. At abnormal levels, mercury can have a toxic effect on our nervous systems and cause other health problems.
These concerns over mercury have also increased attention on one material in dentistry that has included the metal in its makeup for over a century — dental amalgam for filling teeth. Amalgam is a metal alloy that can include, in addition to mercury, silver, tin, and copper. When first mixed dental amalgam is a moldable material used for fillings in prepared teeth. It then hardens into a durable restoration that can withstand biting forces.
While the use of amalgam has declined with the introduction of life-like colored fillings, it's still used for teeth like molars subject to high biting forces. With what we now know about the ill effects of mercury (which can make up to half of an amalgam mixture) is it safe to continue its use?
The American Dental Association has performed extensive research into amalgam safety. They've found that mercury is stabilized by the other metals in the amalgam. This prevents "free" molecules of mercury, the real source of harm to health, from escaping into the blood stream in the form of vapor. Although trace amounts of mercury vapor from the amalgam are released as a person chews, those levels are well below the threshold that could cause harm.
From a patient standpoint, the biggest drawback to dental amalgam isn't safety — it's the appearance of teeth it's used on. Silver fillings aren't considered attractive. And now there are viable filling alternatives that not only look like natural teeth but can withstand biting forces almost as well as amalgam. These materials include composite resins, mixtures of glass or quartz within resin, or glass and resin ionomers. Each of these has advantages and disadvantages depending on how and where they're applied.
After a thorough dental examination, we'll be able to advise you on what filling material will work best to produce the best result. And if we do suggest dental amalgam you can rest assured it will be a safe choice.
If you would like more information on the safety of dental amalgam, 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 “Silver Fillings — Safe or Unsafe?”
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