This month marks the 20th annual observance of Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Last year, over 50,000 people in the US were diagnosed with oral cancer, and over 10,000 people died from the disease. The 5-year survival rate for oral cancer is only around 57%, making it more deadly than many other types of cancer. But if oral cancer is caught and treated early, the 5-year survival rate jumps to over 80%. This is one reason why regular dental checkups are so important—we can be your best ally in detecting oral cancer in its early stages.
Oral cancer is particularly dangerous because it often develops without pain or obvious symptoms. Early detection greatly improves the chances of successful treatment, but signs of the disease frequently go unnoticed until the cancer is advanced. Fortunately, dentists and dental hygienists are trained to recognize signs of oral cancer in the early stages, when it is most treatable. Oral cancer can appear on any surface of the mouth and throat, with the tongue being the most common site, particularly along the sides, followed by the floor of the mouth. As part of a regular dental exam, we examine these surfaces for even subtle signs of the disease.
Screenings performed at the dental office are the best way to detect oral cancer, but between dental visits it's a good idea to check your own mouth for any of the following: white or red patches, lumps, hard spots, spots that bleed easily or sores that don't heal. Let us know if any of these symptoms don't go away on their own within two or three weeks.
Using tobacco in any form is a major risk factor for oral cancer, especially in combination with alcohol consumption. Although the majority of people diagnosed with oral cancer are over age 55, the fastest growing segment of new diagnoses are among young people due to the rise in cases of sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) in young adults.
A routine dental visit can do much more than preventing and treating tooth decay and gum disease—it might even save your life! If you have questions about oral cancer or are concerned about possible symptoms, call us as soon as possible to schedule an appointment for a consultation.
Most everyone knows that going to see your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings can help save your smile — but did you ever stop to think that it just might save your life?
That's what recently happened to 11-year-old Journee Woodard of Edmond, Oklahoma. The young girl was having a routine teeth cleaning when hygienist Rachel Stroble noticed something unusual: The whites of her eyes (her sclera) had a distinctly yellow tint. Dr. Michael Chandler, Journee’s dentist, confirmed the hygienist’s suspicions, and advised her mom to take her for further testing. The tests revealed that Journee had a tumor covering parts of her pancreas, gallbladder and liver; it could have ruptured at any moment, with devastating consequences.
The tumor was removed three days later in a 9-hour operation, and Journee is now recovering. As for her dentist, Dr. Chandler told reporters that he and his staff were just doing their jobs thoroughly. “It's hard to feel like I’m a hero,” he said (though others might disagree).
Is this a one-in-a-million case? Maybe — yet for many people, a family dentist may be the health care professional who is seen more often than any other. That can put dentists in the unique position of being able to closely monitor not only a person’s oral health, but also their overall health.
There are several reasons why that’s so. One is that most systemic diseases (such as diabetes, leukemia, and heart disease, for example) can have oral manifestations — that is, symptoms that show up in the mouth. If your dentist notices something unusual, further testing may be recommended. Dentists also regularly screen for diseases specific to the mouth — such as oral cancer, which has a much better chance of being cured when it is caught at an early stage.
But beyond checking for particular diseases, dentists often notice other things that may indicate a health issue. For example, if you complain of dry mouth or snoring, and appear fatigued in the dental chair, your dentist may suspect undiagnosed sleep apnea: a potentially serious condition. Many other signs — such as yellowed eyes, a pounding heart rate, or shortness of breath — can indicate potential problems.
Of course, we’re not even mentioning the main reason for regular dental checkups — keeping your smile healthy and bright; for many people that’s reason enough. How does Journee’s mom feel about keeping dental appointments? “I will never miss another dentist appointment,” she told reporters. “I will never reschedule.”
If you would like more information about routine dental checkups, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Dental Hygiene Visit” and “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
Sometimes, looking at old pictures can really bring memories back to life. Just ask Stefani Germanotta—the pop diva better known as Lady Gaga. In one scene from the recent documentary Five Foot Two, as family members sort through headshots from her teen years, her father proclaims: "Here, this proves she had braces!"
"If I had kept that gap, then I would have even more problems with Madonna," Lady Gaga replies, referencing an ongoing feud between the two musical celebrities.
The photos of Gaga's teenage smile reveal that the singer of hits like "Born This Way" once had a noticeable gap (which dentists call a diastema) between her front teeth. This condition is common in children, but often becomes less conspicuous with age. It isn't necessarily a problem: Lots of well-known people have extra space in their smiles, including ex-football player and TV host Michael Strahan, actress Anna Paquin…and fellow pop superstar Madonna. It hasn't hurt any of their careers.
Yet others would prefer a smile without the gap. Fortunately, diastema in children is generally not difficult to fix. One of the easiest ways to do so is with traditional braces or clear aligners. These orthodontic appliances, usually worn for a period of months, can actually move the teeth into positions that look more pleasing in the smile and function better in the bite. For many people, orthodontic treatment is a part of their emergence from adolescence into adulthood.
Braces and aligners, along with other specialized orthodontic appliances, can also remedy many bite problems besides diastema. They can correct misaligned teeth and spacing irregularities, fix overbites and underbites, and take care of numerous other types of malocclusions (bite problems).
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that kids get screened for orthodontic problems at age 7. Even if an issue is found, most won't get treatment at this age—but in some instances, it's possible that early intervention can save a great deal of time, money and effort later. For example, while the jaw is still developing, its growth can be guided with special appliances that can make future orthodontic treatment go quicker and easier.
Yet orthodontics isn't just for children—adults can wear braces too! As long as teeth and gums are healthy, there's no upper age limit on orthodontic treatment. Instead of traditional silver braces, many adults choose tooth-colored braces or clear aligners to complement their more professional appearance.
So if your child is at the age where screening is recommended—or if you're unhappy with your own smile—ask us whether orthodontics could help. But if you get into a rivalry with Madonna…you're on your own.
If you have questions about orthodontic treatment, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Magic of Orthodontics” and “Orthodontics For The Older Adult.”