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Posts for: September, 2014

By Randall Furman DDS
September 23, 2014
Category: Oral Health
CurtSchillingBlamesSmokelessTobaccoforHisOralCancer

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.”


AcuteToothPainmaybeSignalingYourNeedforRootCanalTreatment

We now have amazing therapies to replace lost teeth with life-like replicas that look and perform like real teeth. But for oral health in general it’s still better to save a natural tooth if we can.

That’s the main purpose of a root canal treatment — to rescue a tooth whose pulp (an area of tissue and nerve bundles inside the tooth) has died from trauma or ravaged by a bacterial infection that continues to progress up into the bone via the root canals. By accessing the pulp through a small opening in the top of the tooth we remove the dead and infected pulp tissue, thoroughly disinfect the empty pulp chamber and root canals, and then fill them with a special filling. We then seal the opening (and later install a permanent crown) to prevent future fracture of the tooth and re-infection.

So, how can you know your tooth is in danger? Your first indication may be an intense tooth pain that comes on quickly. This pain is emanating from the nerves in the pulp as the tissue begins to die. Once the nerves have died, they will no longer transmit pain signals: hence the pain will subside rather quickly in about two or three days.

So it is important to understand that the absence of pain doesn’t mean the infection has subsided — quite the contrary, it’s still present and active, making its way along the root canals of the tooth. At this point you may begin to notice a secondary pain when you bite down on the tooth. This is originating from other nerves located around the periodontal ligament (the main tissue that helps hold teeth in place with the bone) as the tissues become inflamed from the infection. You may also develop an abscess, an area in the gum tissue where infectious pus may collect. Depending on its location, the abscess can be acutely painful or “silent,” meaning you may not feel any pain at all. The infection is still there, though, and the tooth is still in danger.

If you encounter any of the pain symptoms just described, you should visit us for an examination as soon as possible. If the cause indicates the need for a root canal treatment time is of the essence — the longer we delay, the greater the risk of ultimate tooth loss.

If you would like more information on root canal treatments, 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 “Signs and Symptoms of a Future Root Canal.”