Chewing tobacco is a known cause of oral cancer, yet many a Major League Baseball player has been seen walking onto the field with a round tin visibly poking out of his back pocket. That was before this year. Recognizing the influence big-leaguers have on their young fans, MLB players agreed to a new contract that limits their use of chewing tobacco and their ability to carry it around their fans. The 2012 season is the first to be played under the new rules, which were championed by Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.
One player who used smokeless tobacco heavily is Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. The former Padres slugger earlier this year endured 14 hours of surgery to remove a cancerous growth from the inside of his right cheek and graft a nerve from his shoulder to replace a facial nerve damaged by the tumor. This was Gwynn’s second cancer surgery in less than two years.
When it comes to oral cancer, the importance of early detection can’t be stressed enough. Unfortunately, this form of cancer is not usually detected until a late stage so the overall survival rate is poor, with only 58% surviving five years after treatment. Yet when oral cancer is detected while a lesion is small, survival rate exceeds 80%. That’s why an oral cancer screening is always part of your dental check-up or regular cleaning appointment at this office.
During this screening we will examine your face, neck, lips, mouth, tongue and the back of your throat for any suspicious lesions (sores or ulcers) or lumps. Of course, if you notice any unusual lesions, or color changes (white or red patches), anywhere in your mouth that do not heal within two-three weeks, please come in to see us as soon as possible. And if you need help kicking a tobacco habit, we can advise you on how to get it.
If you would like more information about oral cancer, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
While periodontal disease can take on a variety of forms, most are caused by a thin layer of bacterial plaque called biofilm. This layer of plaque will form every 8-12 hours and sticks like glue to your teeth near the gum line. With time, tartar formation occurs at and below the gum line.
If left unchecked, biofilm can give rise to a very unhealthy progression. It first triggers an infection that leads to painful inflammation, progressive bone loss and the gum tissue losing attachment with a tooth. Void spaces (or pockets) form where the gum and bone tissue once adhered; infectious plaque and tartar moves into these pockets and advances deeper to the root. Overcome by disease, the tooth is in danger of being lost.
It’s imperative then to remove as much of this entrenched plaque and tartar as possible. Renewed oral hygiene is not enough — removing plaque and tartar from the root surfaces requires a treatment known as root planing.
Root planing is a meticulous, labor-intensive process. We first clear away larger portions of plaque around the teeth and gums with hand instruments or an ultrasonic device and then flush out the pockets with water. After administering a local anesthetic for pain, we would then turn to a number of small hand instruments known as curettes to probe and scrape away as much remaining plaque below the gum line as we can get to.
Root planing requires experience and a good sense of touch to work in areas that can’t be clearly seen. Observing the gum line, though, can give us a good indication of progress as these tissues will actually change color once the biofilm and tartar deposits have been removed.
Being so deeply entrenched, not all the deposits might be removed during one session. However, as plaque and tartar are removed, the gum tissues will begin to heal and become less inflamed. This will make it easier to remove plaque in subsequent sessions.
Root planing takes time, but the effort is well worth it. In the short term you’ll notice less inflammation and pain around your teeth and gums. In the long-term, it just may save your teeth.
If you would like more information on root planing and periodontal disease, 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 “Root Planing.”