The Impact of Oral Cancer Screening

It has been beaten into your brain, you have heard it so many times you could scream... The American Dental Association recommends you see your dentist twice a year for regular cleanings and check-ups. One of the reasons it is recommended to have regular check up's for your mouth, much like for the rest of your body, is to screen for any abnormalities. The impact of oral cancer screening is just as vital as screening for cancers anywhere else. According to The American Dental Association, 42,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral and throat cancers this year. The 5-year survival rate of those diagnosed is only slightly more than 64% therefore, when cancer is detected and treated early, treatment-related health problems are reduced. Oral Cancer can range from your lips all the way to back of your throat and everywhere in between. Look inside your mouth and think about all that surface area. As your dentist, I make it a point to look for any signs or symptoms of anything abnormal in your mouth, this does not just include decay in or on your teeth. I am looking for any redness, lumps, lesions and your bite. When I ask you questions about how your mouth is feeling, I am wanting to know if you are having any soreness, tenderness, and swelling. What you may think something that is not that big of a deal, it may be. When I am asking about your family history - though it may seem strange that I am a dentist, as you know, having an idea of what the family's history of illness is can be an indicator in your own body.

 

I encourage that if between your regular visits to your dentist's office you notice anything that seems off, do not hesitate to give your doctor a call. I am sure he/she will be more than happy to schedule an appointment even just to put your mind at ease. Keep in mind there are many things that can stick out to indicate something may be abnormal. According to The American Dental Association, the symptoms of mouth or throat can include:

 

  • A sore or irritation that does not go away
  • Red or white patches
  • Pain, tenderness or numbness in mouth or lips
  • A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving your tongue or jaw
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together when you close your mouth

 

Patients over the age of 40 tend to be more at risk of these factors, it has however been found in patients younger than that. Contributing factors can include tobacco/nicotine users of all kinds, HPV has even been associated with certain types of oral cancer. Keeping your mouth healthy with brushing, flossing, fluoride use, regular dental visits, a good diet, and keeping your mouth moist will not only assist in presentation of tooth decay but oral cancers as well.

 

For more information about oral cancers please visit http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/o/oral-cancer or http://www.oralcancerfoundation.org/facts/

Do You Really Know How To Floss?

Let's face it - flossing is a little tricky. Are you doing it properly? Are you doing it often enough? Are you using the correct flossing instrument? Are you getting sick of your dental hygienist lecturing you at every dental appointment about flossing? The question of the day is do you really know how to floss? I personally always love when I get my teeth cleaned and the hygienist finishes off my cleaning with a good thorough flossing. They are able to get in to all the areas that it seems like I cannot. How am I supposed to fit my hands ALL the way back there??!? I wanted to simply the technique for you at home - so it doesn't seem so daunting.

Step 1: Grab some floss, the ADA recommends about 18 inches. Really just grab enough to be able to use some clean floss after each tooth.

Step 2: Get the floss between the teeth and all the way up to the gum line gently and "wrap" your tooth with the floss. Use an up and down and back and forth (or zig-zag) motion to get all those surfaces.

Step 3: Once all your teeth are squeaky clean, rinse your mouth very well - you did just clean out a lot of bacteria from under your gums.

Easy enough, right? If you are a type of person that struggles with standard floss, there are lots of other options out there to help you achieve your flossing goals and make your hygienist beam with pride at your next cleaning. I she has even offered you a handheld flosser at one of your appointments. Take her up on it next time. The technique with these is similar but it gives you the luxury of not having to struggle getting around those back teeth and hard to reach places. All the major dental companies have created water flossers or air flossers as well. The water and air flossers are easy to use, gentle and incredibly effective. Have a lot of bridge or crown work, maybe even braces? We have floss for that too! Special floss to get around those wires to keep your gums healthy! Remember, flossing is the most effective way to keep plaque out of your gum tissue and off of your teeth in between your dental cleanings. Research your options and start flossing - this way if someone should ask do you really know how to floss? You can say, YES and I have the gums to prove it!

Oil Pulling

Oil pulling is the practice of swishing oil (coconut, sesame, or sunflower oil is recommended) for 20 minutes each day. The benefits are said to help prevent gingivitis and plaque buildup - some also say it can help prevent cavities among other health benefits. It is really difficult for someone in my profession to try a different oral health technique to really get a grasp on the dental benefits of it. I say this because anyone in the dentistry profession has a tendency to get regular cleanings and check up's and often times more than every six months. As the "oil pulling" trend is becoming more popular, patients are asking me how I feel about it - so I did it. My oil pulling experience was interesting. Swishing coconut oil for a solid 20 minutes each day was trying on me, my jaw got tired and it seemed like 20 minutes lasted a lifetime. I did read that there are other, shorter methods to do this - but I wanted to try it as authentically as possible.

I did notice right away that my breath felt like it was fresher. I am not able to attest whether it was the refreshing coconut oil or if it really genuinely cleaned bacteria and plaque off of my gums and teeth. After a few days of this painstaking task, I did notice less tissue breakage when I flossed meaning my gums were a little healthier. I will have to have one of my hygienists tell me how well I did at my next hygiene cleaning where they can check under the gum line and take my periodontal readings. All in all, I can see how oil pulling has some benefits. I would not recommend oil pulling as a substitute for regular hygiene appointments and dental check up's and I certainly do not suggest skipping brushing or flossing regularly either, but as an addition to your current healthy dental hygiene habits, I say go for it. Let me know if you have tried it and how you feel about it.

Understanding Dental Insurance

Now that the end of the year is approaching a lot of you are going through plan after plan your employer has selected for your medical, dental and vision plans. I hope this will help in understanding dental insurance better and will assist in helping you choose the correct plan for you. One of the largest misconceptions about dental insurance is that it works hand in hand with your medical insurance - it does not. Dental insurance is a completely different animal. The way I can best describe it to a patient is to think of it strictly as a discount - no more, no less. Dental coverage is decided by how much your employer pays into the plan, it has nothing to do with what your dentist would recognize as the best possible treatment. It is a contract between your employer and the insurance company and they are deciding what amounts your plan pays and what is covered. You as an employee have every right to let your employer know if your coverage is not adequate for your health needs.

So many of my patients will tend to select the treatment option that is covered by their dental insurance and not what is recommended. I feel I must point out that your health is the most important thing. As many of you know I tend to recommend to my patients what I would to my own mother or father to keep their mouths healthy; it is not my practice to overextend your wallets. Many dental offices, including mine, try to help take all the guess work out of dental insurance. We will call and get full breakdowns from each company to get an overview of what is covered and what is not. We will file all of your claims so you do not have to mess with the paperwork and follow up ultimately saving you a lot of time and money. Dental insurance is just one part of staying healthy. If you ever have any questions on how your insurance works - we will be more than happy to take the time to explain all of the ins and outs. We will help you understand what your insurance will cover and how to plan accordingly. Remember, the least expensive option is not always the best option. This goes for dental, medical or vision. Understand your insurance; it will make your life a lot easier when it comes to deciding what is best for you.

What is periodontal disease?

A lot of patients seem shocked when Teresa or Kara has to deliver the news that maybe their dental hygiene hasn't been the best over the year and as a result of that the patient has developed periodontal disease. In truth, periodontal disease is not uncommon. What is periodontal disease? We old-timers used to refer to it as gingivitis. While gingivitis is an early indicator of periodontal disease, it is in fact periodontal disease. How many of us have gums that bleed when we floss or brush, tender gums, a change in our bite or teeth that seems subtle enough to ignore until it is too late. The mouth is filled with bacteria, countless bacteria. Plaque will build up in your mouth and on your teeth and left untreated can rapidly produce toxins and enzymes that cause inflammation and irritation to your gums. This will in turn cause damage to the healthy tissue and bone that supports your tooth.

There are many determining factors you can detect to see if you may have beginning or even advanced stages of periodontal disease. Ask yourself these simple questions.

  1. Do I smoke or chew tobacco?
  2. Do I have a systemic disease, such as diabetes?
  3. Am I on any steroids, cancer therapy drugs or blood pressure medication?
  4. Am I pregnant or on hormones?
  5. Are my gums red, swollen, tender and bleeding?

Believe it or not, these are ALL contributing factors to periodontal disease - not just lack of brushing for 2 minutes twice per day and flossing regularly. I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep up with your preventative dental care. The result of not properly treating even the mildest form of periodontal disease can be simple as a "deep cleaning" here in the office but can be as extreme as gum grafting surgery (yes, as in skin graft) or tooth loss. I am here to tell you this because although I know better as a dentist, sometimes it is MOST difficult for me to get my teeth cleaned. Put it to you this way, it is bad when you have to apologize to your hygienist for all the extra elbow grease she had to put into cleaning your teeth.