Posts for: January, 2015
For years, even as tobacco use began to decline and disappear in most settings, professional baseball seemed one of the few exceptions. Now, the tide is finally turning. Recently, the legendary right-hand pitcher Curt Schilling revealed that he had been treated for oral cancer — and said that his chewing tobacco habit was to blame. “I’ll go to my grave believing that was why I got [cancer],” Schilling told the Boston Globe.
Schilling isn’t the only former player whose oral cancer is blamed on smokeless tobacco. Tony Gwynn, Hall of Famer and beloved coach, recently passed away from oral cancer at the age of 54. His death led to players pledging to give up the habit. But many still use “dip” or “snuff,” thinking perhaps it’s not so bad after all.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. With nicotine as its active ingredient, chewing tobacco can be just as addictive as cigarettes. Not only is nicotine addictive, it also increases heart rate and blood pressure, constricts the arteries, and affects the body in other ways. In addition to nicotine, chewing tobacco contains about 30 other chemicals known to cause cancer.
Tobacco use of any kind is a major risk factor for oral cancer. While it isn’t as well-known as some other types of cancer, oral cancer can be just as deadly. About 43,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with it each year — and the 5-year survival rate is just 57%. One reason for the relatively low survival rate is that oral cancer isn’t usually detected until it has reached a later stage, when it’s much harder to treat.
What can you do to reduce your risk for oral cancer? Clearly, you should stop using tobacco products of any kind. Moderating your intake of alcohol, and eating more plant foods and less red meat can also have an impact. And don’t forget to have regular dental checkups: cancer’s warning signs can often be recognized in an oral examination — and early detection can boost survival rates to 80-90 percent.
How does Schilling feel about chewing tobacco now? “I lost my sense of smell, my taste buds for the most part. I had gum issues, they bled, all this other stuff,” he told the Globe. “I wish I could go back and never have dipped. Not once.”
If you have questions about oral cancer or cancer prevention, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Chewing Tobacco” and “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
A dental implant can permanently restore the form and function of a missing natural tooth. But there’s an important prerequisite for this smile-transforming therapy — you must have enough bone remaining at the implant site to securely anchor the implant and ensure proper crown placement for the most natural looking result.
Patients who don’t meet this prerequisite may need to consider other restorative options. In some cases, however, we may be able to encourage sufficient bone growth to support an implantation through a technique called bone grafting.
Bone grafting involves opening the gum tissues at the intended implant site to expose the underlying bone. We then place the grafting material (usually a processed material) around the bone, sometimes with collagen membranes that serve as subterranean band-aids to guide bone growth. In most cases, the graft is actually a scaffold for the natural bone to grow upon; the natural bone will eventually replace the graft material. The procedure is normally performed with local anesthesia to minimize discomfort.
While bone grafting is a fairly routine procedure, it shouldn’t be undertaken unless there’s a firm prognosis it can successfully support a future implant. We must therefore determine if anything else in your oral health would disqualify you as an implant candidate, even if sufficient bone existed or not. We must also determine if there’s enough remaining bone currently at the site to even attach a bone graft.
Once we’re satisfied that bone grafting would be both possible and helpful, we must then consider what type of grafting material to use. If we’re only replacing one tooth we may choose to use an autograft, bone material taken from another area of your own body. Although autografts have advantages because of their regeneration ability, it does involve creating another surgical site within the body. In most cases we may use processed materials, for example allografts, material that originates from another human being; xenografts, taken from another species of animal; or synthetic (man-made) materials. Regardless of the source, these materials are first processed to be safe for human use.
If successful, the regeneration process will result in enough new bone structure to make dental implants a reality. Your mouth will be healthier — and your resulting smile will be more beautiful than ever.
If you would like more information on bone grafting, 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 “Can Dentists Rebuild Bone?”