Posts for: April, 2021
Rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen died last fall after a long battle with oral cancer, another in a long line of performers, athletes, politicians and other well-known personalities with this serious form of cancer. But household names like Van Halen are just the tip of the iceberg: Around 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer each year.
Although not as common as other malignancies (around 2.5% of total cancers), oral cancer has one of the lowest five-year survival rates at a dismal 57%. Part of the reason for this has been the longstanding difficulty detecting it in its earlier stages: Early signs are easy to miss or mistake for a benign sore. As a result, it's often diagnosed after advancing significantly, complicating treatment efforts.
To improve survivability, the Oral Cancer Foundation designates each April as Oral Cancer Awareness Month to better educate people on this deadly disease. Here are 3 things you can do to prevent oral cancer or improve your survival odds if you encounter it.
Know your individual risk factors. Some risk factors for oral cancer are out of your control—for example, your risk may be higher if you're a male over 40, or if you're African-American. But there are also factors you can control like tobacco use, high alcohol consumption or a poor diet, all of which can elevate your cancer risk. You can lower that risk by making lifestyle changes for factors you can control and prioritizing cancer screening if you have factors that you can't.
Pay attention to oral “oddities.” A small mouth sore or patch of odd-looking skin may be nothing—or it may be the beginning of oral cancer. If you do notice something unusual, especially if it seems to linger beyond a couple of weeks, have us examine it as soon as possible. If it does appear suspicious, you may need to undergo a biopsy, a cancer analysis of the suspected tissue. If it is cancerous, an early diagnosis could improve your outcome.
Visit your dentist regularly. There's more to semi-annual dental visits than teeth cleaning. Regular dental visits are an important component in your “early warning system” for oral cancer—we may notice something suspicious during your regular visit, often before you do. If you're older or have other risk factors for oral cancer, we can expand your regular exam to include a comprehensive cancer screening.
Oral cancer is a serious matter. But taking steps to prevent it and staying alert to its warning signs can help you overcome it.
Your tooth enamel is often under assault from oral acid produced by bacteria and certain foods. Unless neutralized, acid can erode your enamel, and lead to destructive tooth decay.
But there's another type of acid that may be even more destructive—the acid produced in your stomach. Although important for food digestion, stomach acid outside of its normal environment can be destructive. That includes your teeth, if stomach acid finds its way into your mouth. And that can happen if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
GERD, a chronic condition affecting 1 in 5 adults, is caused by the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter, a ring of muscle at the intersection of the esophagus and the stomach that prevents stomach acid from traveling back into the digestive tract and damaging the esophageal liner.
It's also possible for stomach acid to travel as far up as the mouth. With a pH of 2.0 or less, stomach acid can lower the mouth's normal pH level of 7.0 well below the 5.5 pH threshold for enamel softening and erosion. This can cause your teeth, primarily the inside surfaces of the upper teeth, to become thin, pitted or yellowed. Your teeth's sensitivity may also increase.
If you have GERD, you can take precautions to avoid tooth damage and the extensive dental work that may follow.
- Boost acid buffering by rinsing with water (or a cup of water mixed with a ½ teaspoon of baking soda) or chewing on an antacid tablet.
- Wait about an hour to brush your teeth following a reflux episode so that your saliva has time to neutralize acid and re-mineralize enamel.
- If you have chronic dry mouth, stimulate saliva production by drinking more water, chewing xylitol gum or using a saliva supplement.
You can also seek to minimize GERD by avoiding tobacco and limiting your consumption of alcohol, caffeine or spicy and acidic foods. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to control your GERD symptoms.
Preventing tooth decay or gum disease from the normal occurrences of oral acid is a daily hygiene battle. Don't let GERD-related acid add to the burden.
If you would like more information on protecting your teeth from acid reflux, 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 “GERD and Oral Health.”