Fans everywhere were recently saddened by the news of musical legend Eddie Van Halen's death. Co-founder and lead guitarist for the iconic rock group Van Halen, the 65-year-old superstar passed away from oral cancer.
Van Halen's rise to worldwide fame began in the 1970s with his unique guitar style and energetic performances, but behind the scenes, he struggled with his health. In 2000, he was successfully treated for tongue cancer. He remained cancer-free until 2018 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer to which he succumbed this past October.
Van Halen claimed the metal guitar picks he habitually held in his mouth caused his tongue cancer. It's more likely, though, that his heavy cigarette smoking and alcohol use had more to do with his cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, most oral cancer patients are smokers and, as in Van Halen's case, are more likely to beat one form of oral cancer only to have another form arise in another part of the mouth. Add in heavy alcohol consumption, and the combined habits can increase the risk of oral cancer a hundredfold.
But there are ways to reduce that risk by making some important lifestyle changes. Here's how:
Quit tobacco. Giving up tobacco, whether smoked or smokeless, vastly lowers your oral cancer risk. It's not easy to kick the habit solo, but a medically supervised cessation program or support group can help.
Limit alcohol. If you drink heavily, consider giving up alcohol or limiting yourself to just one or two drinks a day. As with tobacco, it can be difficult doing it alone, so speak with a health professional for assistance.
Eat healthy. You can reduce your cancer risk by avoiding processed foods with nitrites or other known carcinogens. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables with antioxidants that fight cancer. A healthy diet also boosts your overall dental and bodily health.
Practice hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums healthy also lowers oral cancer risk. Brush and floss daily to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. You should also visit us every six months for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
One last thing: Because oral cancer is often diagnosed in its advanced stages, be sure you see us if you notice any persistent sores or other abnormalities on your tongue or the inside of your mouth. An earlier diagnosis of oral cancer can vastly improve the long-term prognosis.
Although not as prevalent as other forms of cancer, oral cancer is among the deadliest with only a 60% five-year survival rate. Making these changes toward a healthier lifestyle can help you avoid this serious disease.
If you would like more information about preventing oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”
Although dental care is our primary focus, we dentists are also on the lookout for other health problems that may manifest in the mouth. That's why we're sometimes the first to suspect a patient may have an eating disorder.
Eating disorders are abnormal dietary patterns that can arise from mental or emotional issues, the most common being anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Each has different behaviors: Anorexics abnormally restrict their food intake (“self-starvation”), while bulimics typically eat heavily and then induce vomiting (“binge and purge”).
Although bulimics are more likely to binge and purge, anorexics may also induce vomiting. That practice in particular can leave a clue for dentists. While vomiting, powerful stomach acid enters the mouth, which can then soften and erode tooth enamel.
It's the pattern of erosion a dentist may notice more than the erosion itself that may indicate an eating disorder. A person while vomiting normally places their tongue against the back of the lower teeth, which somewhat shields them from acid. The more exposed upper teeth will thus tend to show more erosion than the bottom teeth.
A dentist may also notice other signs of an eating disorder. Enlarged salivary glands or a reddened throat and tongue could indicate the use of fingers or objects to induce vomiting. Lack of oral hygiene can be a sign of anorexia, while signs of over-aggressive brushing or flossing may hint of bulimia.
For the sake of the person's overall well-being, the eating disorder should be addressed through professional counseling and therapy. An excellent starting point is the website nationaleatingdisorders.org, sponsored by the National Eating Disorders Association.
The therapy process can be lengthy, so patients should also take steps to protect their teeth in the interim. One important measure is to rinse out the mouth following purging with a little baking soda mixed with water. This will help neutralize oral acid and reduces the risk of erosion. Proper brushing and flossing and regular dental visits can also help prevent dental disease.
An eating disorder can be traumatic for both patients and their families, and can take time to overcome. Even so, patients can reduce its effect on their dental health.
If you would like more information on eating disorders and dental care, 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 “Bulimia, Anorexia & Oral Health.”
You're more apt to lose teeth because of periodontal (gum) disease and tooth decay than any other cause. But neither of these bacterial diseases have to happen: You can prevent them through daily brushing and flossing and twice-a-year dental cleanings.
But that's not all: You can also boost your dental care practices by eating foods that strengthen and protect teeth. On the other hand, a poor diet could reduce the effectiveness of your oral hygiene practices in preventing tooth decay or gum disease.
A diet that might lead to the latter is often high in refined sugar (sucrose), often added to processed foods and snacks to improve taste. But sucrose is also a top food source for oral bacteria, increasing their numbers when it's readily available. A higher bacterial population greatly increases your risk for tooth decay or gum disease.
On the other hand, certain foods benefit your overall dental health. Fresh fruits and vegetables, for example, are filled with nutrients and minerals like vitamin D or calcium that strengthen teeth against disease. And although they can also contain natural sugars, these don't pose the same problems as added sucrose due to the plant fiber you consume with them.
Dairy foods can also help you maintain healthy teeth and gums. Milk and cheese contain minerals like calcium and phosphorus, and a protein called casein, all of which strengthen teeth against decay. The enzymes in cheese stimulate saliva, which in turn neutralizes mouth acid and prevent it from harming enamel.
Some foods are also natural sources of fluoride, a mineral that strengthens tooth enamel. One example is black tea, which also, along with green tea, contains antioxidants that protect against cancer.
The best strategy for “tooth-friendly” nutrition is to pursue a diet that's high in fiber-rich natural foods and low in sugar-added processed foods. In practice, you'll want most of your diet to consist of fresh fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy food, while minimizing foods with added sugar.
Following this kind of diet will certainly benefit your overall health. But it will also make it easier for you to prevent dental disease and keep your teeth and gums healthy.
If you would like more information on how nutrition can boost your 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 “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
“Personalize Your Plate” is the theme for this year's National Nutrition Month in March, sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It means there isn't a single diet for all of us: We're each unique with differing body types and tastes, and our diets need to be unique as well. Still, though, you'll want to be sure to include basic nutrients that are generally good for all of us—including for our teeth.
As you “personalize” your daily diet, be sure it includes dental-friendly vitamins and minerals. Here are some of the more important ones that contribute to strong and healthy teeth, and the kinds of foods in which you'll find them.
Vitamin D. This vitamin is a key element for growing and maintaining healthy teeth and bone, mainly by helping the body absorb calcium. You'll find vitamin D in milk, eggs or fatty fish—and you'll also gain a little strolling outdoors in the sunshine!
Vitamin E. As an antioxidant, vitamin E helps the body fight free radical molecules that contribute to cancer development, including oral cancer. You'll find vitamin E naturally in seeds and nuts (and derivative cooking oils), wheat germ and whole grains.
Calcium. When included with vitamin D and phosphorus, calcium is an important “construction material” for building strong teeth and bones. You'll find calcium in dairy products like milk and cheese as well as greens, legumes and tofu.
Phosphorus. Eighty-five percent of the body's phosphorus, a companion mineral to calcium, is found in teeth and bones, where it helps to keep them strong and healthy. You'll find this important mineral in meats, milk and eggs.
Magnesium. This mineral helps mineralize teeth and bones, giving them strength and protection against disease. You can get magnesium by eating nuts, legumes, whole grains, dark leafy greens, seafood and—if you limit the added sugar content—chocolate.
Fluoride. Most people are familiar with fluoride added to drinking water or toothpaste to strengthen tooth enamel against tooth decay, but the mineral also occurs naturally in some foods. You can obtain low amounts of fluoride in seafood and black or green tea.
One last thing! While we're promoting foods that you should eat for healthier teeth, there's also one you'll want to cut back on: processed sugar. This carbohydrate is a major factor in oral bacterial growth that causes tooth decay and gum disease. So, eating foods low in sugar and high in these key vitamins and minerals will help ensure your teeth stay healthy.
If you would like more information about the importance of nutrition in dental care, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Nutrition: Its Role in General & Oral Health.”
Kathy Bates has been a familiar face to filmgoers since her Oscar-winning performance as Annie Wilkes in Misery. She's best known for playing true-to-life characters like Wilkes or Barbara Jewell in last year's Richard Jewell (for which she earned her fourth Oscar nomination). To keep it real, she typically eschews cosmetic enhancements—with one possible exception: her smile.
Although happy with her teeth in general, Bates noticed they seemed to be “moving around” as she got older. This kind of misalignment is a common consequence of the aging process, a result of the stresses placed on teeth from a lifetime of chewing and biting.
Fortunately, there was an orthodontic solution for Bates, and one compatible with her film career. Instead of traditional braces, Bates chose clear aligners, a newer method for moving teeth first introduced in the late 1990s.
Clear aligners are clear, plastic trays patients wear over their teeth. A custom sequence of these trays is developed for each patient based on their individual bite dimensions and treatment goals. Each tray in the sequence, worn in succession for about two weeks, places pressure on the teeth to move in the prescribed direction.
While clear aligners work according to the same teeth-moving principle as braces, there are differences that make them more appealing to many people. Unlike traditional braces, which are highly noticeable, clear aligners are nearly invisible to others apart from close scrutiny. Patients can also take them out, which is helpful with eating, brushing and flossing (a challenge for wearers of braces) and rare social occasions.
That latter advantage, though, could pose a problem for immature patients. Clear aligner patients must have a suitable level of self-responsibility to avoid the temptation of taking the trays out too often. Families of those who haven't reached this level of maturity may find braces a better option.
Clear aligners also don't address quite the range of bite problems that braces can correct. Some complex bite issues are thus better served by the traditional approach. But that gap is narrowing: Recent advances in clear aligner technology have considerably increased their treatability range.
With that said, clear aligners can be an ideal choice for adults who have a treatable bite problem and who want to avoid the appearance created by braces. And though they tend to be a little more expensive than braces, many busy adults find the benefits of clear aligners to be worth it.
The best way to find out if clear aligners could be a viable option for you is to visit us for an exam and consultation. Like film star Kathy Bates, you may find that this way of straightening your smile is right for you.
If you would like more information about tooth straightening, please contact us or schedule a consultation.
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