Posts for: January, 2020
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
One in 700 babies are born each year with a cleft lip, a cleft palate or both. Besides its devastating emotional and social impact, this common birth defect can also jeopardize a child's long-term health. Fortunately, incredible progress has occurred in the last half century repairing cleft defects. Today's children with these birth defects often enter adulthood with a normal appearance and better overall health.
A cleft is a gap in the mouth or face that typically forms during early pregnancy. It often affects the upper lip, the soft and hard palates, the nose or (rarely) the cheek and eye areas. Clefts can form in one or more structures, on one side of the face or on both. Why they form isn't fully understood, but they seem connected to a mother's vitamin deficiencies or to mother-fetus exposure to toxic substances or infections.
Before the 1950s there was little that could be done to repair clefts. That changed with a monumental discovery by Dr. Ralph Millard, a U.S. Navy surgeon stationed in Korea: Reviewing cleft photos, Dr. Millard realized the “missing” tissue wasn't missing—only misplaced. He developed the first technique to utilize this misplaced tissue to repair the cleft.
Today, skilled surgical teams have improved on Dr. Millard's efforts to not only repair the clefts but also restore balance and symmetry to the face. These teams are composed of various oral and dental specialties, including general dentists who care for the patient's teeth and prevent disease during the long repair process.
Cleft repairs are usually done in stages, beginning with initial lip repair around 3-6 months of age and, if necessary, palate repair around 6-12 months. Depending on the nature and degree of the cleft, subsequent surgeries might be needed throughout childhood to “polish” the original repairs, as well as cosmetic dental work like implants, crowns or bridgework.
In addition to the surgical team's skill and artistry, cleft repair also requires courage, strength and perseverance from patients and their parents, and support from extended family and friends. The end result, though, can be truly amazing and well worth the challenging road to get there.
If you would like more information on repairing cleft birth defects, 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 “Cleft Lip & Cleft Palate.”
As a parent, you’re all about helping your kids grow up healthy. But there are some obstacles that can make that difficult. One in particular is tooth decay, which could interfere with their dental development.
A bacterial infection, tooth decay destroys dental tissue—and untreated it could lead to tooth loss. This could severely derail a child’s normal development, even if it’s one of their primary (“baby”) teeth. That’s why preventing tooth decay or treating it promptly when it occurs should be one of your top priorities for your child’s dental health.
Here are 3 things you can do to minimize your child’s risk of tooth decay.
Start oral hygiene early. Your best defense against tooth decay is to clean your child’s teeth daily of dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that’s the main driver for dental disease. The best way to do this is with brushing and flossing, so begin performing these tasks with your child as soon as their teeth begin to appear. Oral hygiene is also important before their teeth come in—simply wipe your infant’s gums after nursing with a clean damp cloth to reduce bacteria in the mouth.
Start dental visits early. By age 1, most children already have quite a few teeth, making it the recommended time to schedule their first dental visit. Not only will this and subsequent visits support your plaque removal efforts, they also give your dentist an opportunity to catch any emerging dental issues. Early visits can also help get your kids used to seeing the dentist, reducing the chances they’ll develop dental visit anxiety later in life.
Avoid “baby bottle decay.” Sugar is one of decay-causing bacteria’s favorite food sources, so restricting your child’s intake of this carbohydrate can lower their decay risk. Besides limiting sugary snacks and sweets, be sure you do one more thing: eliminate sugar from the nighttime or naptime baby bottle. Parents often lay babies down to sleep with a bottle filled with sugary liquids like juice, milk or formula. Either avoid giving the bottle or make sure it only contains water.
If you would like more information on how to help your kids’ dental development stay on a healthy track, 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 “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”
Looking for an affordable way to beautify your smile? The answer could be dental veneers, thin wafers of porcelain bonded to the front of teeth to hide stains, chips or other deformities. Custom-made veneers can look so much like natural teeth in color and shape, it’s hard to tell they’re there.
To achieve this realism, though, it’s usually necessary to alter the tooth first. That’s because a veneer can look unnaturally bulky when bonded to an unprepared tooth. To compensate, we often remove a slight amount of surface enamel so that the veneer’s width won’t be unattractive.
This alteration doesn’t harm a tooth as long as it has a veneer or some other restoration to protect any exposed underlayer of dentin. And because the alteration is permanent, the tooth will need a veneer or other protective covering from then on.
In recent years, though, two new options called no-prep or minimal-prep veneers make it possible to avoid or at least decrease the amount of enamel reduction needed. This is possible thanks mainly to improvements in the strength composition of the dental material used in them.
As a result, these veneers are as thin as contact lenses and may only require slight enamel reshaping to smooth out the sides of the teeth for a better fit. And, unlike traditional veneers, you can have them removed and return to your original look without the need for another restoration.
Low prep veneers are best suited for patients with teeth that are small (or appear small), worn, narrow or only slightly stained or misshapen. Someone with oversized teeth, on the other hand, or that jut forward may still need extensive tooth preparation or even orthodontic work beforehand.
If you do meet the criteria, though, you may be able to benefit from low prep veneers. Because there’s no tooth preparation, you may not even need local anesthesia. And you can reverse the restoration if you desire without harm to your teeth.
To find out if you might benefit from these new kinds of veneers, see us for an initial dental examination to see if you qualify. It’s your first step toward a more beautiful and confident smile.
If you would like more information on no-prep or minimal-prep veneers, 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 “No-Prep Porcelain Veneers.”
Just like adults, teenagers experience chipped, stained or disfigured teeth. And during a life stage where issues with appearance can be acutely painful, these defects call out for a solution.
And, there is one: porcelain veneers. These thin wafers of custom-made porcelain are bonded to the front of teeth to cover dental flaws. They’re one of the least invasive—and most affordable—methods for smile enhancement.
There is one caveat, though: The affected teeth will most likely need alteration. Veneers can look bulky when bonded directly to teeth, so we compensate for this by removing some of the surface enamel. This changes the tooth permanently, to the point that it will always require a veneer or some other form of restoration.
But although this may be a minor issue for an adult, it could pose a problem for a teenager. That’s because the pulp, the innermost layer of a tooth containing nerves and blood vessels, is larger in a younger adolescent tooth than in an older adult tooth. Because of its size, it’s closer to the tooth’s surface. During enamel reduction for veneers on a young tooth, this could lead to inadvertent nerve damage. If that happens, the tooth may need a root canal treatment to preserve it.
If the adolescent tooth needing a “facelift” has already been root canaled or sustained significant structural damage, then altering it for veneers may not be too concerning. Likewise, if the teeth are smaller than normal, the bulkiness of a veneer may actually improve appearance and not require alteration. We’ll need to examine a young patient first before making any recommendations.
There are also alternatives to veneers for improving smile appearance. Enamel staining could be enhanced temporarily with teeth whitening. Small chips can be repaired with bonded dental material, or in skilled hands be used to “build” a veneer one layer at a time with no enamel reduction. Although not as durable as regular veneers, these bonding techniques could buy time until the tooth is more mature for veneers.
Whichever path we take, there are effective ways to transform a teenager’s flawed tooth. And that can make for an even better smile.
If you would like more information on dental restorations for teenagers, 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 “Veneers for Teenagers.”