Posts for: December, 2014
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.”
Do you still feel tired or unfocused even after a full night’s sleep? Do others complain about your snoring? It’s possible these are signs that you may have sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a condition in which you stop breathing while you sleep. Your brain will awaken you to breathe, although you may not consciously realize it since the waking period can be less than a second. But it does disrupt your sleep rhythm, especially during the all-important deep sleep period called Rapid Eye Movement (REM). These disruptions don’t allow your body to receive the full benefit of sleep, hence your lack of energy and focus during the day.
One of the most common causes for sleep apnea is the collapse of soft tissues near the throat as they relax during sleep that restrict the airway. Snoring is an indication this may be occurring: air vibrates rapidly (and loudly) as it passes through this restriction when you breathe in.
As your dentist, we’re well-trained in the anatomy and function of the entire oral structure, and qualified to offer solutions for sleep apnea. If you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea (after a complete examination, including an observation session at a sleep laboratory), we can then help you decide on a treatment approach. The following are three such options, depending on the severity of your sleep apnea.
Oral Appliance Therapy. An oral appliance you wear while you sleep is a first line treatment for mild or moderate sleep apnea. The appliance, which we custom design for you, helps hold the lower jaw in a forward position: this moves the tongue and other soft structures away from the back of the throat, thereby opening the airway.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). Intended for more moderate to severe forms of sleep apnea, a CPAP machine produces continuous air pressure to the throat through a mask you wear during sleep. This forces the tongue forward and the airway open.
Surgical Intervention. These procedures remove excess tissue that may be obstructing the airway. Due to its invasiveness and permanent alteration of the throat area, surgery is reserved for patients who haven’t responded to other therapies in a satisfactory manner.
Whether mild or severe, it’s possible to effectively treat sleep apnea. If successful, not only will you benefit from better sleep and greater alertness, you’ll also improve your long-term health.
If you would like more information on treating sleep apnea, 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 “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry.”
After her husband, producer Bruce Paltrow, succumbed to oral cancer in 2002, actress Blythe Danner made it her mission to help save other families from the heartache she and her children (Jake and Gwyneth Paltrow) suffered with his loss. Now active with the Oral Cancer Foundation, Blythe uses her fame to bring awareness to the disease, which she says she and her family knew very little about before Bruce received his diagnosis.
In an interview with People magazine, Blythe said she believes her husband's cancer could have been detected earlier if the family had been alert to the symptoms.
“For months I had noticed Bruce's voice was hoarse,” she said. “I started asking him to see a doctor. But he kept saying, ‘No, no, no, I'm fine.’ ”
When a lump became visible in his neck, he did go to the doctor and found he had a tumor in his throat. The cancer eventually spread to his lymph nodes. Compounding Blythe's sadness is the feeling that she might have been able to do something to prevent her husband's death.
“I feel tremendously guilty,” she told the magazine, noting that she wishes she had simply insisted her husband get himself checked out. “Education and early detection are so important,” she said of her campaign to raise awareness. “That's why I'm doing this.”
Though Bruce Paltrow was a smoker, it's important to note that young, non-smokers comprise the fastest-growing segment of the population being diagnosed with the disease. That's because a sexually transmitted virus known as HPV16 is now a major cause of oral cancer.
Oral cancer screenings are yet another good reason to make regular semi-annual visits to the dentist. We have the training to notice oral abnormalities, and to monitor and/or biopsy any suspicious lesions. At your oral cancer screening, we will feel your neck for lumps and inspect your lips and all inside surfaces of the mouth, including the back of your throat.
Of course, if you or a loved one experience persistent hoarseness, white or red patches or other changes in your mouth or tongue that don't go away in a few weeks, please don't hesitate to come in and see us.