Oral cancer – the risk factors

Oral cancer is a cancer form which is often overlooked. Nonetheless, this form of cancer is the largest group within the cancers in the head and neck region. It is also a form of cancer which is on the increase. Read more about the risk factors here…

oral cancer mouthOral cancer (cancer located in the mouth, tongue or throat) is a cancer form which is often overlooked. Nonetheless, this form of cancer is the largest group within the cancers in the head and neck region. It is also a form of cancer which is on the increase. Knowledge about the risk factors that might lead to oral cancer is essential in order to prevent and fight this serious disease. This article will list the factors that are most commonly accepted as risk factors for developing oral cancer:

Tobacco

Smoking is a leading risk factor for developing oral cancer. The use of tobacco affects and causes changes in all of the cells that are exposed to the smoke. Both the entire oral cavity, lungs and larynx are therefore at risk of developing cancer.

Smokeless tobacco

Smokeless tobacco in the form of chewing or spit tobacco has in some places been advocated as a low-risk form of tobacco use because it does not cause lung cancer. But when it comes to oral cancer, the risk of developing cancer is not less. To the contrary, smokeless tobacco has been identified as a risk factor in developing oral cancer as well as pancreatic cancer as well as several other oral diseases.

Alcohol

Alcohol abuse (defined as more than 21 standard drinks in one week) is a large risk factor for developing oral cancer. When alcohol abuse is combined with tobacco, the risk of developing oral cancer increases by 15 times. It seems that alcohol and tobacco works together synergistically in the development of cancer, possibly because the alcohol weakens the cells’ natural defense system against the effects of tobacco.

Virus

The human papilloma virus, especially version 16, is a sexually transmitted virus which has recently been proved to be a risk factor for developing oral cancer. It might even be replacing tobacco as the main causative agent for developing oral cancer in patients under the age of 50.

Radiation

Ultraviolet light (e.g. from excessive exposure to sunlight) is a risk factor in the development of lip cancer. With the increase in knowledge of the damaging effects of excessive sunbathing, this form of cancer is on the decrease. X-rays are another source of radiation. The small doses of x-rays used in the dental clinic normally do not pose a risk. It is worth to remember, though, that radiation exposure is accumulative over a lifetime and should not be taken too lightly.

Nutrition

Some studies indicate that a diet low on vegetables and fruit might be a risk factor in developing oral cancer. In contrast a diet rich on fruit and vegetables may offer protection against many types of cancer.

You can read more facts about oral cancer on www.oralcancer.org

Dental crowns – do we really need them?

Your tooth has been doing just fine with fillings for many years, but suddenly your dentist says that you need a crown. You shutter when you hear the price. Can it be true? Why does your tooth suddenly need a crown? And does it really have to be so expensive?

Do you need a crown?Your teeth have been doing just fine with fillings for many years, but suddenly your dentist says that you need one or maybe even several dental crowns. You shutter when you hear the price of the crowns. Can it be true? Why do your teeth suddenly need crowns? And do dental crowns really have to be so expensive?

Why fillings don’t work forever

Fillings work quite well when there is enough of the original tooth substance left to fix the filling on to. A filling can normally last 10 – 15 years after which it either falls off or there are signs of dental caries starting to develop underneath or at the edge of the filling. In many cases your dentist can just change the filling to a new one. Each time a filling is changed, however, your dentist will need to remove a bit more of the original tooth in order to create a clean surface for the filling to be attached to. This is the reason that your dentist might eventually deem the amount left of the original tooth insufficient for supporting a filling. In this case, the only proper treatment alternative is dental crowns.

Different kinds of dental crowns

You can normally choose between a few different materials for dental crowns. The alternatives include porcelain crowns, gold crowns, plast crowns and a combination of metal and porcelain crowns. The prices of dental crowns range according to the material. You can discuss the different alternatives and their price with your dentist.

Porcelain crowns are normally the most expensive dental crowns and are preferred my many, because they look the most like the natural tooth.

Gold crowns are often recommended by dentists. The reason is that gold is the material that is most like the natural tooth in substance and also makes stronger dental crowns than the ones purely made of porcelain. Dental crowns made of gold are mostly used in molars because of their not-so-natural appearance.

Plast crowns also look very much like the natural tooth in color, but plast is not a very strong material for dental crowns and often doesn’t last as long as the other materials. Plast crowns should therefore mainly be considered as a temporary (and/or cheaper) solution.

Metal-ceramic crowns are made of porcelain on the outside with a metal core on the inside. In this way the natural color is combined with the strength of the metal. For molars this material makes very strong dental crowns, but for front teeth many would prefer dental crowns made of pure porcelain. The reason is that metal-ceramic crowns lack the transparency of natural teeth, whereas dental crowns made of pure porcelain are more transparent and look more natural.

Before making your decision on what material to choose for your dental crowns, you should discuss the matter thoroughly with your dentist. You might not need to choose the most expensive alternative, but the cheapest dental crowns might not prove to be so cheap in the end anyway, if the result doesn’t last or if the tooth is damaged. Take the life expectancy of the different dental crowns into consideration and also consider your own needs and expectations. Then you will surely find a good solution.

Toothache! Why does it hurt and what can be done?

It has been said that a toothache is the most intense pain that can be experienced. What causes a toothache, why is it so painful and what can be done?

A toothache can be extremely painfulIt has been said that a toothache is the most intense pain that can be experienced. In fact, a really bad toothache can feel like your head is exploding. What causes a toothache and why is it so painful?

The causes of toothache

A toothache is the result when the nerve of a tooth has become infected. This infection is most commonly caused by a deep cavity, but can also be the result of a trauma to the tooth or a very severe case of periodontal disease. When a toothache is really bad, it can be difficult to locate where exactly the pain is coming from. Sometimes the pain of a toothache feels like it is coming from the ears or the jaw. If your tooth is very sensitive to hot and cold (and maybe sweet) or if it is painful to bite on the tooth, an infected root is a very probable cause and even if you don’t have a toothache at present, it might be on it’s way. But why is a toothache so painful?

Why a toothache hurts so bad

When your finger is infected, it normally swells up because of your body’s own immune response. This is possible because the tissues in your finger are relatively soft and flexible. When you have an infection in a tooth, the immune response is the same – but a tooth cannot swell up the same way as a finger can. The infection is caught inside the hard tissues of the tooth, causing a very large pressure. This is the reason for the intense toothache. When the pressure gets too high, the infection will start to work it’s way out of the tooth through the root and into the surrounding bone structure. From here it will continue to push it’s way out through the hard tissues. At this point the toothache is especially painful. Eventually you might develop an abscess, which can normally be seen in the mouth around the area of the root of the tooth which is infected. Sometimes the abscess is even outside the mouth under the chin. When the abscess bursts, the pressure is off and many people feel an instant relief from the toothache. This does not mean that the problem is solved, however. The reason for the toothache – the infection – is still there and treatment is necessary.

What can be done about a toothache?
There are only two ways of treating an infected tooth effectively. The simple solution is to pull out the tooth. Since most people feel that it is best to keep their teeth as long as possible, however, the more common treatment – when possible – is root canal therapy. In some cases it is necessary to combine the treatment with antibiotics.

Whether you are experiencing a toothache now, have experienced a toothache in the past or are hoping to avoid a toothache in the future, your teeth will benefit very much from a routine of good dental hygiene and regular check-ups at the dentist or dental hygienist.

Brushing your child’s teeth – how to win the fight!

It is very normal that children don’t like to have their teeth brushed. In many families the daily brushing routine has turned into a fight, which all to often is won by the child. Here is some advice that will increase your odds for winning the brushing fight once and for all.

child brushing teethIt is very normal that children don’t like to have their teeth brushed. In many families the daily brushing routine has turned into a fight, which all to often is won by the child. Here is some advice that will increase your odds for winning the brushing fight once and for all:

Choose the right toothbrush

Buy the toothbrush together with your child. There are many funny and interesting designs. While some children hate electric toothbrushes, others love them. Some electric toothbrushes even play a little melody while you are brushing. Whatever your child chooses, he or she might be more willing to accept a brushing with a tool of his or her own choice.

Choose the right time

Don’t wait with the brushing routine untill your child is tired or even exhausted. Very few children will be cooperative in this condition. Try instead to schedule the brushing at a time when your child is relaxed and in a good mood.

Choose the right place

You don’t necessarily have to brush your child’s teeth in the bathroom. If your child is more relaxed or comfortable in another room, try and do the brushing routine in there. If you already have a routine of reading a bedtime story, you might be able to add the toothbrushing to this routine and do it at the same place.

Let your child practice brushing

For a very young child it can especially be a good idea to allow the child to use a toothbrush by him- or herself. A toothbrush can be very soothing to bite on if the gums are itching from teething. In this way your child can also get used to the feeling of a toothbrush in the mouth.

Before brushing your child’s teeth, it might also be an idea to allow your child to brush teeth on a teddy bear or a doll or even on you.

Don’t expect perfection – but be systematic

Accept that you won’t always be able to brush perfectly in the beginning. When your child starts to accept the routine, you can gradually do it more and more thoroughly. Make sure that you at least within the same day are able to brush all areas of your child’s mouth. For example, if you are only able to brush the right side in the morning, you can make sure to brush the left side in the evening.

Stop while the game is good

Try and sense when your child is about to have had enough of the brushing and stop just before that. If you force your child too much, he or she might be very unwilling the next time. If you respect your child’s limits, you will probably be able to push these limits little by little.

Motivate – don’t force!

Do NOT use power or even violence for example by forcing your child’s mouth open or holding him or her down. Use motivation instead and remember to praise and reward your child, when the brushing has gone well.

Dental Hygienist Schools – increasingly popular

Dental hygienists belong to one of the most rapidly growing professions in the world and dental hygienist schools experience an increasing interest in the education and career opportunities for dental hygienists. But where exactly are the dental hygienist schools and what can you learn there?

Want to be a dental hygienist?

Dental hygienists belong to one of the most rapidly growing professions in the world and dental hygienist schools experience an increasing interest in the education and career opportunities for dental hygienists. But where exactly are the dental hygienist schools and what can you learn there?

Dental Hygienist Schools

In the US dental hygienist schools mostly include community colleges and technical colleges that offer 2-year programmes in dental hygiene, leading to an associate’s degree. It is also possible to take a 4-year bachelor degree at the university and some dental hygienist schools even offer a master’s degree. The difference between the 2- and the 4-year programme is that the bachelor degree includes courses in e.g. psychology, sociology, chemistry, biology, nutrition and more. While the associate’s degree is adequate for landing a job in a clinic, the bachelor also opens opportunities to work within dental education, administration, research etc.

After completing an education at a Dental Hygienist School, a dental hygienist earns the right to add ‘RDH’ (Registered Dental Hygienist) before his or her name. A hygienist must be licensed in the state that she or he wishes to practice.

Dental Hygienist Schools’ requirements for admission

  • Minimum age 18
  • High school diploma or GED
  • High school courses in English, math, biology and chemistry
  • Minimum grade average: C
  • College entrance exam scores

Dental Hygienist qualifications

The clinical qualifications gained through an associate’s degree (minimum) at dental hygienist schools include:

  • Oral examinations in the clinic (incl. gathering information about patients’ oral and medical health history).
  • Teeth cleaning and polishing
  • Oral profylaxis (adding sealants and fluorides to teeth)
  • Taking, developing and assessing oral x-rays
  • Dental hygiene instruction (teaching patients how to care for their teeth)
  • Taking impressions and making models of teeth

In some American States as well as in many European countries the qualifications of dental hygienists (and thus the programmes at dental hygienist schools) are expanding to include disciplines such as:

  • Polishing fillings and metal restorations
  • Administering anesthetics
  • Preparing laboratory and clinical tests for the dentist to assess
  • Removing and placing fillings and periodontal dressings

There are many resources on the Internet offering lists of Dental Hygiene Schools. The American Dental Hygienist Association is also an excellent source of information for dental hygienists and others interested in information about dental hygiene education.

Dental health and your teeth

Dental hygiene dental care beautiful teethYou eat with them. You speak with them. You smile with them. In fact, you spend most of your life with them. What are they? Your teeth.

As long as they don’t cause you pain or problems, you probably don’t spend much time thinking about your teeth. They are, however, a very important member of your body and deserve your care and attention.

Good dental health starts early in your life with good habits for dental hygiene and regular visits at the dentist. Dental health, though, has nothing to do with how many fillings you have or how many (or few) teeth you have left. Dental health is about the condition of your teeth and gums right here and now. Even a mouth with only very few teeth can be healthy, if good dental hygiene is maintained. At the same time a mouth full of pearly-white teeth can be diseased and unhealthy if for some reason the oral hygiene is suffering.

This website has been established to help you achieve and/or maintain good dental health. If you treat your teeth well, they will be your loyal partners for life.

X-rays in the dental clinic – why and what?

There are several reasons that a dentist might choose to take one or more x-rays. X-rays are a very helpful tool for your dentist or dental hygienist to ‘see’ things in your mouth that are not visible to the eye. In this article we will introduce three of the most common x-rays taken in the dental clinic: Bite-wings, single x-rays and panoramics

x-ray single pictureThere are several reasons that a dentist might choose to take one or more x-rays. X-rays are a very helpful tool for your dentist or dental hygienist to ‘see’ things in your mouth that are not visible to the eye. In this article we will introduce three of the most common x-rays taken in the dental clinic: Bite-wing x-rays, single x-rays and panoramic x-rays:

Bite-wing x-rays

Bite-wings are the x-rays that you bite on. These are used to see cavities on the surfaces between your teeth, since these are very difficult to see without the use of x-rays. Bite-wings are also used to evaluate your bone structure around the teeth, when there is suspicion of bone loss (periodontitis). Your dentist or dental hygienist will need to take between one and four x-rays to get the information that he/she needs. Normally it is not necessary to take more than one in each side, though.

Single x-rays

Single x-rays are taken to get a picture of a whole tooth including the root and surrounding bone structure. This type of x-ray is the best way to find causes for tooth aches or other abnormalities inside or around a single tooth. If there is suspicion of extensive periodontitis or caries your dentist or dental hygienist might choose to take a whole set of single x-rays to get a picture of every tooth. If there are no symptoms and a normal oral examinations shows no sign of disease, there should be no need for this.

Panoramic x-ray

A panoramic x-ray is a photograph of your whole mouth in one shot. It does not show as many details as a set of single x-rays, so it is only useful to get a general impression of your dental health status and then maybe supplement with a couple of single x-rays. This type of x-ray is especially useful in connection with orthodontics or a very extensive treatment need.

Dental assistants, an invaluable part of the dental clinic

Dental assistants are essential for the dental clinicDental assistants are essential for any dental clinic. Dental assistants are the ones that make the daily activities in the dental clinic run smoothly. The dental assistants are often the first persons you see, when you arrive at the clinic and the last ones you speak with, before you leave. Dental assistants might have held your hand while in the dental chair or might have chatted with you while you were waiting for the dentist. But dental assistants are much more than friendly ‘hostesses’ that make patients feel comfortable. What other tasks do dental assistants perform?

Traditionally dental assistants assist the dentist in the clinic, by…

Passing and holding instruments and materials, when the dentist needs it: Many procedures performed by your dentist are actually done best with not only two, but four hands. The dentist needs to use many different kinds of instruments and materials and it would be both time consuming and unhygienic if he (or she) would have to find them by himself and put them down and pick them up all the time. In order to be effective, the dental assistant needs to be very alert and needs to know the different procedures well enough to pre-assess what the dentist will need next. It is an impressive sight to see experienced dental assistants in action. They know exactly what the dentist will need and when, and have it ready for him exactly when he reaches out for it.

Keeping the dentist’s ‘work area’ clear: A dentist’s ‘work area’ is the mouth of his patients. For dental assistants keeping this work area clear involves suction of saliva and blood. Sometimes it is also necessary for assistants to hold cheeks and other oral tissues aside for the dentist to have a more clear view and less obstacles.

Preparing and clearing the clinic before and after patients: It is the job of the dental assistants to prepare the clinic room by laying out the needed instruments and applying hygienic tape etc. before the patient arrives. After the patient has left, assistants clear away the used instruments and change hygienic tape and paper towels. After the last patient has left, the dental assistants clean and disinfect all surfaces in the clinic.

Cleaning and sterilizing instruments: All clinics have a special room for sterilization of dental instruments. All instruments must be cleaned, disinfected and sterilized after each use and this is the job of the dental assistants. Assistants therefore need to be familiar with hygienic procedures and the use of the different machines for sterilization.

Other clinical tasks that can be performed by dental assistants are…

  • Taking and developing x-rays
  • Mixing materials for fillings etc.
  • Making individual bleaching trays and (maybe) performing the bleaching procedure
  • Taking impressions and making cast teeth models
  • Polishing teeth
  • Scheduling appointments and managing patient charts
  • Making temporary crowns
  • Applying dental sealants
  • Instructing patients on dental hygiene and educating them on oral health
  • Ordering dental supplies for the dental clinic

Dental assistants’ work day can be very varied and includes tasks both in the clinic, the office, the dental lab and the sterilization room. If you would like more information about education, salary and working conditions for dental assistants you can follow the links below:

American Dental Assistants Association

Bureau of Labour Statistics for Dental Assistants

Wikipedia – Dental Assistants

Teeth whitening – external or internal?

Humans have always preferred white teeth. Already more than 2000 years ago the Egyptians started to develop techniques to whiten their teeth. The technology that is used today was only invented a little more than 50 years ago. This article will discuss the two most common methods of whitening teeth.

white teeth whitening bleachingHumans have always preferred white teeth. Already more than 2000 years ago the Egyptians tried to develop a whitening technique using urin. The somewhat more hygienic whitening technique that is used today, however was only invented a little more than 50 years ago. This article will discuss the two most common teeth whitening techniques used today: External and internal whitening.

External whitening
If the stains on your teeth are external, they are quite simple to treat with external teeth whitening. This can be done either at the dental clinic by the dentist or in your home, using a tray and a whitening gel that you apply yourself. The ‘active ingredient’ in the products for both professional and at-home teeth whitening is usually hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. As the active ingredient is broken down, oxygen gets into the enamel on the teeth and the colour of the teeth is made lighter.

If you choose to do the whitening in your home, you will first need to go to the dentist to have a tray made. The tray is designed to fit your teeth perfectly, but with a gap for the whitening gel between the tray and the front side of your teeth. If the tray does not fit closely to the teeth, excess whitening gel might spread from the tray to your mouth with the risk of you swallowing some of it. Before making the tray, your dentist will make impressions of your teeth and produce a model according to which the tray will be made. When the tray is finished, your dentist will give you the whitening gel and instruct you on how to use it in your home. You will normally need to use the tray every day for 1-2 hours (or all night) for 2 to 4 weeks untill the desired results are achieved. The price for this kind of teeth whitening can vary from clinic to clinic so ask around before you make your decision.

A both simpler and faster solution is to have your whitening treatment performed by your dentist in the clinic. With this method the same results can be achieved as with at-home whitening products, but in much shorter time (as little as one visit). The reason that teeth whitening in the dental office is faster is, that the gel used by the dentist has a much higher concentration of carbamide peroxide (up to 35%) than the at-home products (10%). The higher concentration of whitener would not be safe for you to use in your home, but when the whitening procedure is performed by a professional, it is safe enough. Many dentists choose to supplement the whitening treatment with laser light which supposedly accelerates the whitening proces. The greatest disadvantage of the professional whitening is that it is much more expensive than the at-home procedure.

Internal whitening
If the discoloration of a tooth originates from within, e.g. from a root canal treated tooth, internal whitening is an effective method to improve it’s appearance. In order to bleach the tooth from the inside, it is necessary to remove the surface filling and part of the root filling as well. The crown chamber is cleansed and a whitening agent is placed inside. A temporary filling is placed on top to close the opening. After one week the tooth is opened again, the whitening agent removed and the procedure is repeated. It will often be necessary to repeat the procedure three to four times before the desired results are achieved. When the whitening treatment is done, a light glasionomer cement filling is placed in the deepest part of the tooth with a plast filling on top. This treatment might be a good alternative to having the tooth capped. Especially if the tooth is otherwise healthy and the only problem is the discoloration.

A nutritious diet for healthy teeth

Your diet has a greater influence on your dental health than most people realise. Everyone knows that too much sugar combined with poor dental hygiene causes cavities. But your diet’s influence on your oral health goes far beyond this and started already before you were born.

A healthy diet means healthy and strong teethYour diet has a greater influence on your dental health than most people realise. Everyone knows that too much sugar combined with poor dental hygiene causes cavities. But your diet’s influence on your oral health goes far beyond this and started already before you were born.

While the teeth are formed

Already during pregnancy it is important that the mother gets the recommended amount of minerals and vitamins through her diet in order for the teeth of her baby to develop properly. The fetus starts to form teeth already in the 8th week after fertilization and from the fourth month they develop continually.

At birth, most of the crowns of the teeth are mineralized, although they will not be visible in the mouth untill about 6 months later. After the child is born the roots of the teeth continue to develop and the need for a proper diet thus continues. In fact, the forming of the teeth does not end before age 18, when the wisdom teeth normally erupt.

Diet and the development of muscles and jaws

Developing teeth not only need nourishment for mineralizing. Your diet is also important for the development of your oral muscles and the growth of your jaws. More and more children need braces because their jaws have not grown enough to make room for the erupting teeth. This happens when the child eats too much soft food that does not require much chewing. Hard vegetables and coarse-grained foods are very beneficial for the development of a child’s muscles and jaws.

Your diet and cavities

Cavities are the result of a combination of plaque and sugar. Plaque is a layer of bacteria that is formed automatically within a short time after you brush your teeth and which will continue to build up untill you brush them again. Plaque in itself does not cause cavities. It is only when sugar is added to the plaque, that the bacteria in the plaque start to produce the acid which breaks down the tooth. At the same time sugar alone does not cause cavities if there is no plaque on the teeth. Since it is normally not possible to keep your mouth 100% plaque free, it is important to be aware of the amount of sugar you take in through your diet. It is especially the sugary snacks in between meals that damage your teeth. If you are constantly adding sugar to your plaque, your teeth will be under a constant acid attack. Your mouth needs a break between meals so that your saliva can neutralise the acid and restore the natural balance in your mouth.

If you are in the habit of snacking between meals, consider eating sugar free candy or chewing gum. Be aware that many ‘healthy’ snacks such as fresh or dried fruit and biscuits also contain sugar, although in a less unhealthy form than the refined sugar in cakes and candy. Vegetables (especially carrots) are the least ‘damaging’ snacks, since they contain very little natural sugar.

Give your teeth a break

Also try to limit your consumption of sugary and/or sour beverages. A bottle of soda or juice can often last for hours if you are only sipping from it now and then. This habit is very damaging to your teeth, though. Research has shown that it normally takes around 20 minutes for your mouth to restore it’s natural acid balance after you have eaten. This means that if you are snacking all through the day e.g. by eating candy of drinking softdrinks, the acidity in your mouth will be constantly out of balance and your teeth will be under constant attack. Instead of quenching your thirst with sugary drinks, consider a more healthy alternative such as milk or water.

Brush!

If you absolutely need your sugary snacks and beverages, remember that cavities arise from a combination of sugar AND plaque. A clean tooth will not develop a cavity, so remember to brush your teeth completely clean at least two times per day.