My Blog

Posts for: March, 2019

By H. Paul Walls, DMD
March 25, 2019
Category: Uncategorized
Tags: teeth grinding  
3ThingsYouShouldKnowAboutTeethGrinding

Do you grind your teeth? If you're not sure, ask your family—sometimes the sound of teeth grinding against teeth might make enough noise to be keeping them up at night. You might also be waking with sore jaw muscles and joints.

If you suspect you have this habit of involuntarily grinding, gnashing or clenching your teeth, it's a good idea to get it checked. Here are 3 things you should know about this odd habit.

Teeth-grinding more prevalent among children. Children are more likely than adults to grind their teeth in their sleep, thought to be a consequence of their developing swallowing mechanism, but usually grow out of it without any long-term effects. Adults with the habit seem to grind their teeth for different reasons, one of the most significant being a response to high stress. Tobacco could be another factor: users are twice as likely as non-users to grind their teeth. Adult teeth-grinding may also be associated with high caffeine consumption, illicit drug use or Parkinson's Disease, which impairs brain nerve function.

Sleep apnea can be an underlying cause. There's one other major underlying cause to add to that list: obstructive sleep apnea. One international study of thousands of patients from different countries found both high anxiety or stress and sleep-related breathing disorders were two of the most significant risk factors for adult teeth-grinding. It's believed the physical stress generated by these temporary episodes of breathing obstruction occurring several times a night could trigger teeth-grinding.

Teeth-grinding can cause dental problems. While having a teeth-grinding habit doesn't automatically mean you'll have dental issues, your risk can increase dramatically. Due to its chronic nature, teeth-grinding can lead to excessive tooth wear, dental work damage or jaw joint dysfunction. In some extreme cases, it could cause tooth fracture.

If you grind your teeth, your dentist may be able to help by creating a custom-made occlusal guard that can reduce biting forces while you're wearing it. You might also minimize teeth-grinding by quitting tobacco and other lifestyle changes, or getting a better handle on stress management. And if you're also diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, getting treatment for that condition will not only improve your overall health, it could help put an end to your teeth-grinding habit.

If you would like more information on bruxism, 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 “Teeth Grinding: Causes and Therapies for a Potentially Troubling Behavior.”


By H. Paul Walls, DMD
March 15, 2019
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral cancer  
NewSalivaTestmayHelpIdentifyOralCancerEarlier

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.

If you would like more information on early detection and treatment for oral cancer, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.


SteelyDanFoundersDeathHighlightsImportanceofEarlyCancerDetection

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.┬áIf 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.”