Posts for: May, 2018
A half million people are diagnosed every year with oral cancer. While other cancers are more prevalent, oral cancer is among the most dangerous with only a fifty percent five-year survival rate.
A major reason for this low rate is because this fast growing cancer is difficult to detect early — diagnosis comes far too often after the disease has already well advanced. In an effort to detect cancer earlier many dentists visually screen for oral abnormalities during checkups, especially patients over fifty, tobacco or heavy alcohol users, patients with a family history of cancer or a medical history of exposure to the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus, HPV-16.
If they detect an abnormality, the dentist often refers the patient to an oral surgeon or other specialist for a possible biopsy. In this procedure the surgeon removes a sample of the abnormal tissue, which is then examined microscopically for cancer cells. A biopsy remains the most effective way to diagnose oral cancer.
Because of the disease's aggressive nature, many dentists lean to the side of caution when referring patients for biopsy. As a result 90% of oral biopsies reveal no cancer. Reducing the number of biopsy referrals is highly desirable, especially for the patient undergoing the procedure. Tissue samples tend to be large to ensure complete detection of any cancer cells. Depending on the size and location of the sample, there may be a risk for loss of function or disfigurement.
A new screening tool using a sample of a patient's saliva could help reduce the number of biopsy referrals. Besides DNA, saliva also contains dormant genes called biomarkers that activate in response to the presence of a specific disease. This particular saliva test identifies those biomarkers for oral cancer if they're present.
A sample with a low score of biomarkers indicates no cancer present (with a statistical confidence of 99%). A medium or high score indicates cancer may be present, but only a biopsy can determine for sure. Using this test, dentists might be able to reduce the number of biopsy referrals and instead be able to employ watchful waiting in certain cases. Because of its simplicity and non-invasiveness, saliva screening could help identify oral cancer earlier.
With exciting innovations in cosmetic dentistry over the last few decades, we can now transform nearly any unattractive smile. One of the best and most cost-effective of these is the porcelain veneer. These thin layers of dental porcelain are bonded over the front of chipped, slightly misaligned or stained teeth to create an entirely new look.
Veneers have evolved over time, especially with the materials they contain that give them their beauty and life-likeness. The first veneers were made mainly of feldspathic porcelain, a mineral composition known for its similarity in color and translucence to natural teeth.
But because this early porcelain had a high amount of silica (in essence, glass), and because they were created through overlaying several thin layers that weren’t as strong as a single piece, they were prone to shattering. This made them problematic for teeth subject to heavy biting forces or patients with clenching or grinding habits.
The situation changed dramatically in the 1990s, when dental labs began adding Leucite, a sturdier glass-like mineral that didn’t diminish the porcelain’s translucence. Not only did Leucite make veneers more shatter-resistant, it also enabled dental technicians to fashion most of the veneer in one piece to further strengthen it.
More recent veneers may now incorporate an even stronger material called lithium disilicate. Because lithium disilicate has twice the strength of Leucite, veneers made with it can be as thin as 0.3 millimeters. Not only does this blend together the most desirable qualities expected of a veneer—strength, aesthetic appeal and easy fabrication—it allows for a broader range of situations and uses.
Both of these materials can be pressed or milled to assume the exact shape necessary to fit a particular tooth. The manufacturing process also allows for creating smaller veneers that can then be overlaid with porcelain for the most life-like appearance possible.
Thanks to these stronger materials enhancing the natural beauty of porcelain, we now have a wider creative palate for transforming your smile.
If you would like more information on porcelain 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 “Porcelain Veneers: Your Smile—Better Than Ever.”
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.”