By M. Kenneth Johnson, DMD, PA
April 30, 2021
Category: Dental Procedures
Tags: oral cancer  
3ThingsYouShouldDotoOvercomeOralCancer

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.

If you would like more information about oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”

By M. Kenneth Johnson, DMD, PA
April 20, 2021
Category: Dental Procedures
Tags: veneers  
YourTeensTeethMayNotBeReadyforVeneers

Teenagers can have the same smile-disrupting tooth flaws as adults. But not all cosmetic treatments available to adults are appropriate for teenagers—at least not until they get a little older. Dental veneers fall into that category.

A veneer is a thin porcelain shell custom-made by a dental lab, and bonded by a dentist to the face of a tooth to mask chips, stains, gaps or other imperfections. Because they're less invasive than other measures, veneers are highly popular as a cosmetic dental solution. They do, however, usually require some enamel removal so that they'll appear more natural.

This enamel removal typically won't impact an adult tooth other than it permanently requires it to have veneers or other restorations after alteration. But there is a risk of damage to a teenager's tooth, which hasn't fully developed.

Adolescent teeth usually have a larger pulp chamber (filled with an intricate network of nerves and blood vessels) than adult teeth. And because the enamel and dentin layers may not yet be fully developed, the pulp is much nearer to the tooth's surface.

We must be very careful then in removing enamel and dentin for veneers or we may penetrate the pulp and risk damaging it. Alternatively, there is the possibility of no-prep veneers which are very conservative but often are unable to be done because of the need to often remove tooth structure to make the veneers look natural.

Another cosmetic problem can occur if we place veneers on a patient's teeth whose jaws and mouth structures are still growing. Eventually, the gums could recede and an unsightly gap form between the veneer and the adjacent natural tooth.

Fortunately, there are other techniques we can use to improve a tooth's appearance. Mild chipping can be repaired by bonding composite resin material to the tooth. Some forms of staining may be overcome with teeth whitening. These and other methods can address a teenager's smile appearance until their teeth are mature enough for veneers.

Whether or not a tooth is ready for veneers will depend on its level of development, something that can often be ascertained with x-rays or other diagnostic methods. And if a tooth has already undergone a root canal treatment, there isn't as much concern. In the meantime, though, it may be better for your teen to wait on veneers and try other techniques to enhance their smile.

If you would like more information on dental restoration 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.”

By M. Kenneth Johnson, DMD, PA
April 10, 2021
Category: Oral Health
DontEatMotorizedCornontheCobandOtherDentalSafetyTips

We're all tempted occasionally to use our teeth in ways that might risk damage. Hopefully, though, you've never considered anything close to what singer, songwriter and now social media persona Jason Derulo recently tried in a TikTok video—attempting to eat corn on the cob spinning on a power drill. The end result seemed to be a couple of broken front teeth, although many of his followers suspected an elaborate prank.

Prank or not, subjecting your teeth to “motorized corn”—or a host of other less extreme actions or habits—is not a good thing, especially if you have veneers, crowns or other dental work. Although teeth can withstand a lot, they're not invincible.

Here, then, are four things you should do to help ensure your teeth stay healthy, functional and intact.

Clean your teeth daily. Strong teeth are healthy teeth, so you want to do all you can to prevent tooth decay or gum disease. Besides semi-annual dental cleanings, the most important thing you can do is to brush and floss your teeth daily. These hygiene tasks help remove dental plaque, a thin biofilm that is the biggest culprit in dental disease that could weaken teeth and make them more susceptible to injury.

Avoid biting on hard objects. Teeth's primary purpose is to break down food for digestion, not to break open nuts or perform similar tasks. You should also avoid habitual chewing on hard objects like pencils, nails or ice to relieve stress. And, you may need to be careful eating apples or other foods with hard surfaces if you have veneers or composite bonding on your teeth.

Wear a sports mouthguard. If you or a family member are regularly involved with sports like basketball, baseball/softball or football (even informally), you can protect your teeth from facial blows by wearing an athletic mouthguard. Although you can obtain a retail variety in most stores selling sporting goods, a custom-made guard by a dentist offers the best protection and comfort.

Visit your dentist regularly. As mentioned before, semi-annual dental cleanings help remove hidden plaque and tartar and further minimize your risk of disease. Regular dental visits also give us a chance to examine your mouth for any signs of decay or gum disease, and to check on your dental health overall. Optimizing your dental health plays a key part in preventing dental damage.

You should expect an unpleasant outcome involving your teeth with power tools. But a lot less could still damage them: To fully protect your dental health, be sure you practice daily oral care, avoid tooth contact with hard objects and wear a mouthguard for high-risk physical activities.

If you would like more information on caring for your cosmetic dental work, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers” and “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry.”

By M. Kenneth Johnson, DMD, PA
March 31, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: sleep apnea   snoring  
NotGettingaGoodNightsSleepYourDentistMayBeAbletoHelp

If you live an average lifespan, you'll spend more than 200,000 hours in blissful slumber. It's not a waste, though: You absolutely need this much sleep to maintain optimum physical and mental health. That's why the National Sleep Foundation recognizes each March as Sleep Awareness Month to highlight the obstacles to a good night's sleep. One such obstacle is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)—and if you have it, we may be able to help you reduce the harm it may be causing you.

OSA is the blockage of the airway during sleep, usually when the tongue relaxes against the back of the throat. As the oxygen level falls, the brain arouses the sleeper to restore airflow. This only takes a few seconds before the person slips back into sleep, but it can occur several times an hour.

As this scenario repeats itself night after night, the person becomes deprived of the deeper stages of sleep they need to stay healthy. The long-term effect can even be life-threatening: Besides chronic fatigue and “brain fog,” there's also an increased risk of high blood pressure, disease or other serious health conditions.

But there are ways to reduce chronic OSA, the most common being a therapy known as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). A CPAP machine, prescribed by a medical doctor, consists of a small pump that streams pressurized air into the mouth through a hose and facemask; the increased air pressure in the mouth helps keep the airway open. It's a proven method, but not always a favorite with some patients who find it uncomfortable and restrictive to wear every night.

If you're in that camp regarding CPAP therapy, an alternative may be possible: oral appliance therapy (OAT), which dentists can provide. Worn in the mouth during sleep, this custom-fitted mouthguard-like appliance repositions the tongue so that it doesn't block the airway. There is a variety of mechanisms, but most involve a hinge that positions the lower jaw forward, which in turn pulls the tongue away from the back of the throat.

These less invasive OAT devices may be an alternative to CPAP therapy for people who have mild to moderate OSA and find CPAP machines difficult to use. If you've been diagnosed with OSA and CPAP therapy hasn't been a good fit for you, speak with us about an OAT device. It could help you overcome this common disorder and get the deep sleep you need for a healthy mind and body.

If you would like more information about a dental approach to obstructive sleep apnea, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry.”

By M. Kenneth Johnson, DMD, PA
March 21, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: tmj disorders  
TheCausesofChronicJawPainMightBeSimilarToFibromyalgia

Chronic joint pain (temporomandibular joint disorder or TMD) in and of itself can make life miserable. But TMD may not be the only debilitating condition you're contending with—it's quite common for TMD patients to also suffer from fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is a condition with a variety of muscular and neurological symptoms like widespread pain, joint stiffness, headaches and tingling sensations. These symptoms can also give rise to sleep and mood disorder, as well as difficulties with memory. Fibromyalgia can occur in both males and females, but like TMD, it's predominant among women, particularly those in their child-bearing years.

In the past, physicians were mystified by these symptoms of body-wide pain that didn't seem to have an apparent cause such as localized nerve damage. But continuing research has produced a workable theory—that fibromyalgia is related to some defect within the brain or spinal cord (the central nervous system), perhaps even on the genetic level.

This has also led researchers to consider that a simultaneous occurrence of TMD and fibromyalgia may not be coincidental—that the same defect causing fibromyalgia may also be responsible for TMD. If this is true, then the development of new treatments based on this understanding could benefit both conditions.

For example, it's been suggested that drugs which relieve neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain may be effective in relieving fibromyalgia pain. If so, they might also have a similar effect on TMD symptoms.

As the study of conditions like fibromyalgia and TMD continues, researchers are hopeful new therapies will arise that benefit treatment for both. In the meantime, there are effective ways to cope with the symptoms of TMD, among them cold and hot therapy for inflamed jaw joints, physical exercises and stress reduction techniques.

The key is to experiment with these and other proven therapies to find the right combination for an individual patient to find noticeable relief. And perhaps one day in the not too distant future, even better treatments may arise.

If you would like more information on the connection between TMD and other chronic pain conditions, 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 “Fibromyalgia and Temporomandibular Disorders.”





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