THE TRUTH ABOUT SOME COMMON DENTAL MYTHS

The profession of dentistry has experienced an amazing evolution over its lifetime. References to tooth decay can be found in various ancient texts. At one time, a local barber would provide haircuts and pull troublesome teeth in the same shop. Dentistry evolved from these humble beginnings to what we know today: a structured medical discipline where patients benefit from evidenced-based care. Oddly enough, though, several oral health myths and misconceptions have failed to fade away....

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SIMPLE STEPS TO MAINTAIN YOUR ORAL HEALTH

On the list of common reasons people avoid the dentist, cost is usually near the top. It is a fact — some dental treatments are expensive. However, you have some control in working to avoid pricey dental procedures. Two of the best ways to avoid needing expensive dental treatments are to visit a dentist regularly for an exam and cleaning and following proper dental hygiene advice every day.

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COMMON SLEEP DISORDER WREAKS HAVOC ON THE BODY

The National Sleep Foundation estimates over 18 million adults in the United States, or about one in every 15 people, suffer from sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that interrupts breathing, resulting in disruptive sleep. Individuals suffering from obstructive sleep apnea will experience a repetitive (partial or complete) airway collapse throughout their sleep, which prevents air from reaching the lungs.

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ORAL AND PHARYNGEAL CANCER

The three most important risk factors for oral and pharyngeal cancer are tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption and HPV infection. While cases associated with smoking have decreased slightly, those associated with HPV have increased tremendously. HPV is a virus associated with both non-harmful conditions such as skin warts as well as cancers in multiple areas of the body.


Oral and pharyngeal cancer is particularly dangerous because patients often do not present with symptoms until the later stages of disease. Symptoms include hoarseness, unexplained oral numbness, difficulty swallowing or speaking, wart-like lumps or pain in late stages. Other possible signs include a sore that will not heal or bleeds and unexplained sore throat. If one of these signs persists for more than two weeks, evaluation by a healthcare professional is recommended.


Oral and pharyngeal cancer presents as a red or white patch, an ulcer, a mass or a mixture of these signs. The most common sites for oral cancer are the side and bottom of the tongue, the floor of the mouth and the soft palate (the area toward the back of the roof of the mouth). Asymmetry of the tonsils (when one is larger than another) or the palatal arch in front of the tonsils is a particularly worrisome sign if the patient has no recent history of illness.


While genetics and your general level of health play important roles in the occurrence of oral and pharyngeal cancer, there are many simple lifestyle habits and changes within your control that can lower your risk considerably.



Help decrease your risk of oral and pharyngeal cancer by following these suggestions. Consult with your dentist or healthcare professional should you have any questions or concerns.   

DR. MOLLY HOUSLEY SMITH

Dr. Molly Housley Smith is an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry and serves as chief of the Division of Oral Pathology. Her clinical interests include oral cancer and pre-cancer, autoimmune conditions of the oral cavity, soft tissue histopathology and head and neck syndromes. More information about UK Dentistry is available at www.ukhealthcare.uky.edu/dentistry.

more articles by dr Molly Housley Smith

According to the American Cancer Society, 51,540 new cases of oral and pharyngeal cancer will be diagnosed in the United States during 2018. During the same period, a total of 10,030 deaths are expected. These statistics are even more important for Kentucky residents, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted upon reviewing data from 2015 that Kentucky has the second highest rate of oral and pharyngeal cancer in the country, with 13.4 new cases per 100,000 people.


Oral and pharyngeal cancer can be found on the lips, gums, tongue area and palate and inside the mouth in the cheek area or the floor of the mouth, in the tonsils and the throat area. While oral and pharyngeal cancer historically has affected men over age 40 years, we are seeing cases involving younger people because Human Papillomavirus (HPV) plays a greater role in triggering pharyngeal cancer. Additionally, more women are affected due to increased tobacco use through the decades.


The survival rate from oral and pharyngeal cancer is approximately 57 percent, which has only slightly increased in the past few decades. Although newer targeted therapies are on the horizon, the current treatments often include a combination of surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy. Often, these treatments alter a patient’s day-to-day life significantly. They have signs and symptoms of dry mouth, oral pain and burning, an increased risk for cavities and deformities from cancer-removal surgery.