Memorial Day is dedicated to remembering and honoring the brave service members who gave their lives for our country. I have remarked before that timing is everything and these are indeed some interesting times; in our country and in the world at large. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the US involvement in WWII. My dad served in the US Navy in the Pacific Fleet during WWII and although he did not lose his life, many did, not only in that war but in others. I am grateful for their service and honor their sacrifices.
Exactly 78 years after my dad went through Navy boot camp in Great Lakes, IL, my grandson did the same at the beginning of 2020, further linking the past to the future. I feel a deep sense of pride in their commitments and sacrifices, but also in that connection. I am hopeful that as my grandson gains the knowledge and skills to best serve our country he comes to the full understanding of the value of each life that contributes to our freedom. I wish my dad could have seen his great grandson in his uniform. He too would be proud.
Our practice supports military veterans in their oral health and works with the Veterans Benefits to successfully meet their needs. Carol is our liaison for veterans, so please address her with any questions you may have. We are happy to care for US veterans.
Activated charcoal toothpaste appears to be a fast-growing trend in natural oral healthcare. A few of my patients have asked about it, so I decided to address the topic. Charcoal is a fine powder made up of the likes of ground coconut shells and wood oxidized under extreme pressure. It does have the ability to remove surface stains from things like red wine and coffee. It is a naturally detoxifying substance and raising the oral pH balance, reducing acidic plaque. But, in my opinion, the positive attributes end there.
I do not recommend using charcoal toothpaste and I issue a caution if you choose to. While it is mildly abrasive and able to remove surface stains, it is not proven as a tooth whitener and effects of long term use are unknown. Charcoal toothpaste, if overused, can wear down tooth enamel (which cannot be replaced); it can stain older teeth, veneers, restorations, bridges, crowns and porcelain fillings. Charcoal toothpaste can make teeth look more yellow by exposing the dentin, making teeth more sensitive.
If you are still not convinced, I am happy to discuss some better options such as adding baking soda to your regular toothpaste, an in-office tooth whitening or a prescribed at-home tooth whitening. Charcoal toothpaste is a trend I do not recommend. The benefits do not seem to outway the risks.
We all have crossroads in our lives, those points where we have the opportunity to choose between different options and whichever we choose has some effect. Big or small, those choices have an effect on other things like a chain reaction. We can make the choice to remain the same or the choice to veer off the path and make a life altering change. Of particular interest to me is how these choices then make connections in our lives. Recently at my daughter’s wedding, I gave a father-of-the-bride speech and talked about this. If I had not changed course and gone to dental school things would have been entirely different. As luck would have it, I became a dentist and eventually met Lisa. We married and had our lovely daughter. She went to USC like her parents, where she met her future husband. Connections.
There is a similar crossroads connection when patients I have seen for years bring their children to me and then those children grow up and have families of their own who become my patients as well. What a great thing it is to treat multiple generations of families as patients.
In all of my years of practicing dentistry one of the things that has had a lasting effect on me has been when a patient presents with oral cancer. This connection is a result of having a few people close to me who were diagnosed and resulted in tragic outcomes. On the other hand, I have also known quite a few who were diagnosed early and had a positive prognosis. Early detection is critical which is why our practice is committed to screening for oral cancers using the latest innovative techniques.
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, nearly 53,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or oropharyngeal cancer this year. It will cause 9,750 deaths, killing roughly one person per hour 24 hours per day. Historically the death rate for oral cancers is high due to the cancer being discovered and diagnosed late in development. Often it is only discovered after it has already metastasized to another location, like the lymph nodes in the neck. Prognosis at that stage of discovery is much worse than if it is caught early in a localized intraoral area. In the early stages, the patient may not even notice, so the oral cancer can grow without causing pain or obvious symptoms.
There are some specific risk factors such as smoking and tobacco use, heavy alcohol use, UV radiation (lip cancer), and a connection to certain strains of human papillomavirus. Even without clear risk factors, a person could still develop an oral cancer and because symptoms can go unnoticed in the absence of pain or obvious physical changes, an screening can be the most important step to early detection. A dentist can see and feel tissue changes while they are still very small and in the earliest stage. There may be a red or white patch of tissue that looks just like a typical canker sore, however any sore area of your mouth which doesn’t heal within 14 days should be looked at. Other symptoms may be a painless lump in the mouth, pain or difficulty swallowing, speaking or chewing, hoarseness that persists or numbness in the mouth.
If something suspicious is detected you may be referred to a specialist for a biopsy. In our office we now use the Velscope to perform enhanced oral cancer screenings along with an exam. There is an 82% survival rate when oral cancers are caught early. The screening is simple, painless and takes just two minutes. It can reveal tissue abnormalities before they become visible to the naked eye. I am pleased to be able to offer this technology to our patients.
For years my mother smoked cigarettes, from as early as I can remember until she finally quit. Come to think of it, she apparently smoked some while pregnant. This was not entirely uncommon. It’s a well-known fact that smoking causes lung cancer among other health concerns, but it is also known that smoking is an addictive habit not easily stopped by most people who start. Fast forward several decades and e-cigarettes, or vaping as it is also referred to, came along as perhaps a less harmful, possibly less addictive alternative for people trying to move away from traditional (combustible) cigarettes. I think the idea was that these are less damaging than cigarettes and may be used as a transition for those wishing to quit smoking cigarettes because they contain little or no nicotine, but let me tell you, more and more studies are showing that vaping/e-cigarettes are detrimental in their own right. I asked my grandchildren if they were familiar and learned that it is an unfortunate and all too common practice among some high schoolers. Kids congregate in the school bathrooms and inhale. The media has brought forth a host of stories on this alarming trend to be called an epidemic among youth. These have been dubbed the most commonly used tobacco product among teens in the US. As a result, the FDA is pushing hard to restrict access of e-cigarettes to youth and enforcing legal action and fines on retailers that have and continue to sell to underage users. It seems blatantly obvious that the marketing is directed at teens, with the colors and flavors resembling candy and other sweets. E-cigs are often designed to appear like ordinary objects like pens or flash drives. I have recently learned that e-cigarettes can also be used for delivery of marijuana or other drugs as well. I am not even going to address that at this time. I find this particularly concerning because the yet undeveloped adolescent brain is especially vulnerable to nicotine addiction.
Flavored liquid is vaporized and inhaled through a handheld electronic vaping device. A given liquid may or may not contain nicotine, although this trend is still new enough that the long term effects on oral health and overall health are unclear. The liquid also contains propylene glycol, a petroleum byproduct used in antifreeze, paint, liquid detergent and thousands of commercial food products. When heated, studies have shown these e-liquids to contain toxins such as diethylene glycol (also used in antifreeze), lead and chromium. I have seen patients with dry cough or chemical burns on the palate as a result of inhaling the e-liquid, but more often they are unaware because they perceive them as harmless. It makes me wonder how it affects their lungs. Xerostomia, or dry mouth, is another effect that can lead to increased tooth decay. I believe it’s important to educate patients and make them aware that e-cigarettes are not a healthy alternative to smoking. By explaining the negative effects and showing them the oral health issues with the use of the intraoral camera it becomes more real.
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