Tag Archives: oral health

Oral Cancer and the Importance of Early Screening

Oral cancer is one of the lesser-known types of cancer. Though treatable, oral cancer often goes undetected until it’s too late for patients to seek effective treatment. Regular dental screenings are among the best weapons to keep oral cancer at bay and increase recovery rates. Here’s what you need to know about this disease.

What Is Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer, also known as mouth cancer, is a type of cancer that develops in the mouth and throat. This includes the tongue, cheeks, lips, hard and soft palate, and sinuses. Oral cancer is most common in people over the age of 40, and it occurs in twice as many men as women. Tobacco use, sun exposure, and HPV infections can all increase the risk of developing oral cancer. About 54,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer each year.

How Oral Cancer Is Detected

Oral cancer is often detected during routine dental appointments. You may not examine the inside of your mouth very often, but this is exactly what your dental hygienist and dentist are trained to do. They may spot early signs of this cancer, which include:

  • White or red patches in the mouth.
  • Lumps in the mouth, lips, and throat.
  • Thick patches in the mouth, lips, or throat.
  • Changes to the shape of the mouth or jaw.

Some other symptoms of oral cancer that you may notice include:

  • Sore spots in the mouth, throat, or lips.
  • Trouble speaking, swallowing, or chewing.
  • Numbness in the mouth or on the tongue.
  • Ear pain.
  • A persistent sore throat.
  • The feeling that something is caught in your throat that you can’t clear.

If your dentist suspects oral cancer, they will take a small tissue sample for biopsy using either a needle or a small cutting tool. Analysis in a lab will determine whether the cells are cancerous.

Why Oral Cancer Screenings Are Important

Oral cancer is associated with over 11,230 deaths each year. Oral cancer has a survival rate of just 68% compared to 91% for breast cancer, 94% for melanoma of the skin, and 99% for prostate cancer. This isn’t because oral cancer is hard to treat, but because it’s usually caught so late. Early detection is the best way to increase the chance of recovery from oral cancer. Surgery and radiation therapy can be very effective when oral cancer is detected in the early stages.

When to See a Dentist

You should schedule a routine appointment with your dentist at least once a year. If you’re at a higher risk for oral cancer or have other dental problems, you may want to increase your visits to once every six months. Having these frequent screenings will increase the likelihood that you will be able to catch any developing cancers early. If you notice any of the above symptoms of oral cancer, make an appointment with your dentist immediately.

If you’re due for an oral cancer screening, make your appointment with Carolina Family Dentistry now. We’ve proudly served the Charleston area since 1961. Our team looks forward to meeting you.



Xerostomia: Ways to Get Rid of Dry Mouth

Even if you don’t think about it, everyone needs saliva in their mouths. Saliva enhances your ability to taste, making it easier for you to chew and swallow, and it aids in digestion. So what happens when you don’t have enough saliva in your mouth to help with these tasks? You might be experiencing xerostomia, which about 1 in 5 older adults experiences, according to Cleveland Health. Also known as dry mouth, xerostomia is a condition when your salivary glands don’t make enough saliva to keep your mouth moist.

What Is Xerostomia?

Xerostomia is often due to side effects from certain medications, aging issues, or radiation from cancer treatment. In rare instances, dry mouth might be the result of a condition that affects salivary glands. While having a dry mouth can be annoying, it can also increase your risk of gingivitis, mouth infections, and tooth decay. It can also make wearing dentures difficult.

What Are Some Causes of Xerostomia?

If you’re experiencing xerostomia, your salivary glands might not work properly. Several of the key reasons you might deal with dry mouth include:

  • Aging: Older people might experience dry mouth when they age.
  • Medication: According to The Oral Cancer Foundation, more than 400 commonly used drugs can cause xerostomia. Some of these medications include those that treat high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety. Also, some antihistamines, pain medications, and decongestants cause dry mouth.
  • Dehydration: Some conditions that lead to dehydration include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive sweating, and blood loss.
  • Chemotherapy drugs: These drugs change the nature of saliva and the amount produced. However, this may be temporary, with the normal saliva amount resuming after treatment ends.
  • Alcohol or tobacco use: Drinking alcohol and chewing or smoking tobacco can cause dry mouth symptoms.
  • Other health conditions: You might experience dry mouth due to several health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, HIV, AIDS, diabetes, mouth yeast infection, or stroke.

What Are Some Symptoms of Xerostomia?

When your body doesn’t produce enough saliva, you might notice certain symptoms. Some more common ones include:

  • Thick and stringy saliva.
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or speaking.
  • Temporary bad breath, or halitosis.
  • Feeling of stickiness in your mouth.
  • Issues wearing dentures.
  • Sore or dry throat and hoarseness.

How Can You Maintain Dental Health?

Luckily, you can take several steps toward maintaining dental health and minimizing your risk of having dry mouth syndrome. A few of these steps include:

  • Brush your teeth after each meal for two minutes, and it’s especially important to brush in the morning and before bedtime.
  • Floss at least once per day.
  • Cut back on drinking acidic or sugary beverages.
  • Schedule a professional dental checkup every six months.
  • Quit smoking or limit your smoking to less than one pack per day.

You can also mention to your dentist if you’re experiencing xerostomia. You might receive a prescription for an oral rinse to restore your mouth’s moisture.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of xerostomia, reach out to Carolina Family Dentistry. Preventative dental care is one of the best ways to reduce your chances of having other dental-related issues, and we look forward to helping you stay healthy.

How Does Smoking Affect Your Oral Health?

How Does Smoking Affect Your Oral Health?

If you’re a smoker, you’ve heard all the warnings before. You know that smoking is linked to many health problems, like COPD and cancer, but did you know it’s actually very detrimental to your oral health too? Smoking can lead to severe mouth problems – from teeth discoloration and bad breath to loose teeth, tooth loss, and even mouth cancer.

Staining, Bad Breath, and Black Hairy Tongue

Stained teeth are one of the first and most noticeable signs of smoking in the mouth. The tar and nicotine in tobacco can make your teeth look yellow at first and in some cases a darker brown for longtime smokers. Smoking can also cause bad breath. Apart from the more immediate impacts after cigarette smoking, resulting dry mouth effects lead to halitosis(bad breath). Black hairy tongue, as the name suggests, gives your tongue a black, hairy appearance. It is caused by a build-up of dead skin cells and is exacerbated by tobacco use. 

Gum Disease, Tooth Loss, and Cancer

Gum disease begins when bacteria infects and inflames the gums (gingivitis) and leads to infected bone and supporting tooth structure (periodontitis), beginning with tartar and plaque build-up that harbors this bacteria. Smokers are seven times more likely to develop gum disease than nonsmokers. This is because smoking reduces blood flow, oxygenation, and overall immune response. As a result, your gums are significantly more vulnerable to these harmful bacterias, can’t fight them off as well, and can’t heal as quickly as a nonsmoker. 

As the disease progresses, your gums can pull away from your teeth and become more infected. As the bone erodes away, your teeth will get loose, possibly requiring extraction, or they can fall out by themselves!  Also while smoking is often linked with lung and throat cancer, it’s also the leading cause of mouth cancer and has been linked to heart disease. 

What You Can Do

Obviously, the best way to prevent these issues is to quit smoking. But, we understand that is easier said than done. Here are some other practical steps you can take to help combat the damage smoking can cause:

  1. Brush and floss. We recommend brushing your teeth at least twice a day, floss, and/or use a water flosser daily. Don’t forget to brush your tongue! The use of electric toothbrushes and waterpiks are encouraged. Use a combination of different techniques to achieve the desired results.
  2. Do not skip regular checkups. Most studies show you should go to the dentist for a professional cleaning, routine x-rays (as needed), and decay, periodontal, and cancer exams at least every 6 months. You may want to ask your dentist about a more stringent cleaning schedule to help fight against damage caused by tobacco and other underlying tobacco-related issues. We recommend any patients who are at higher risk for gum disease, tooth decay to possibly be seen more frequently to monitor their dental health more closely.
  3. Toothpaste. Use a Flouride toothpaste formulated to remove more plaque and prevent excess tartar buildup. A prescription-strength toothpaste may be recommended.
  4. Mouthwash. Consider using a mouthwash with fluoride to keep your breath fresh and teeth healthy. Some can also help reduce harmful bacteria levels in the mouth.
  5. Be Aware. Check your teeth for signs of declining oral health. If you notice white spots on your gums, your teeth are more sensitive than normal, your teeth are loose, or your gums are bright red or swollen, and prone to bleeding-contact your dentist. These can be signs of serious dental and possibly medical problems that need to be addressed.

Smoking will have negative effects on your teeth, gums, and mouth in general and it’s important to be aware of these issues to help combat them. If you have questions or concerns about your oral health, contact Carolina Family Dentistry today. Don’t wait until it hurts! We are here to help you.

Keep a Healthy Smile This Spring

As the weather warms up, there are some joys of spring that go along with the sunshine. Chances are good that you are getting outside more, becoming more active, and enjoying the seasonal foods of the spring, but are you thinking about how you can keep a healthy smile this season? Check out these tips for making sure your oral health remains a priority through the warmer seasons.

Protect Your Teeth When Playing Sports

Are you looking forward to playing on a softball team this spring? Maybe you are going to be doing some other sports that include physical contact or flying balls. If so, getting a mouthguard is a good idea; it can keep your teeth from breaking if you happen to take a fly ball to the mouth.

Your dentist can fabricate one for you or you can use the “boil and bite” type from any pharmacy. The most important thing is that you wear it when you are on the field.

Watch Your Sweet Tooth

Part of keeping a healthy smile (as well as a healthy body) all year long is moderating your sugar intake. With longer evenings and warmer weather come delicacies of spring such as ice cream and cold soft drinks. While it’s fine to indulge once in a while, try not to make it a frequent habit. Also, be sure to brush well afterward; sugar that sits on teeth can lead to gum disease and dental decay.

Keep Up With Your Oral Hygiene Regimen

The lighter evenings often translate into later nights, and it’s normal to be tired by the time you finally fall into bed. Don’t neglect your dental health routine, however! Keep a healthy smile by being sure to brush and floss before bed. You can also do it after dinner, if you prefer to get it out of the way; just be sure to brush again if you end up having a late-night snack.

Visiting your dentist regularly is another way to make sure you have a healthy smile. Give us a call if you’re due for a cleaning and checkup!

Smoking and Your Oral Health

Do you smoke? If so, you already know that it’s not good for you. Smoking can lead to lung disease, cancer, heart attacks, and a host of other issues. What you might not know is that smoking also wreaks havoc on your oral health. Check out this list of ways smoking impacts your dental health, in case you need more of an incentive to quit.

Smoking Can Cause Staining and Halitosis

On a purely aesthetic level, smoking can cause staining of your teeth. No longer will they be pearly white after you’ve smoked awhile. The tar and the other chemicals will stain your teeth yellowish, brownish, or grayish. You can brush with a whitening toothpaste, but that will go only so far.

Many people who smoke know that smoking also gives them bad breath, also called halitosis. If you smoke and your partner does not, this can be a sticking point in your relationship. Chewing gum and brushing and flossing regularly help somewhat, but you can’t completely hide the smell.

Smoking Can Cause Gum Disease

Inflamed, red, bleeding gums can occur when someone smokes. One reason is that smoking dries out oral tissues, and dried out gums are more susceptible to tiny cuts and cracks that can lead to bacterial infections. As the bacteria and plaque sit in the pockets between your gums and your teeth, they are ready to infiltrate any little cuts, causing the bleeding, sore gums that are the hallmark of gingivitis and periodontitis (both forms of gum disease).

Smoking Can Cause Tooth Loss

As gum disease progresses, the teeth can become loose, eventually falling out. Also, tooth decay tends to be more prevalent in smokers, so broken or decayed teeth may need to be extracted. Smokers are also more prone to dry sockets and other complications following extractions and other types of oral surgery.

Smoking Can Cause Oral Cancer

Finally, in severe cases, both smoking and chewing tobacco can cause oral cancer. If you notice a lesion, sore, or patch in your mouth that doesn’t clear up within two weeks, make an appointment with your dentist right away to be evaluated for oral cancer. This is particularly important if you smoke.

Talk to your doctor about ways that you can quit smoking. You will be adding years onto your life and you might be able to avoid some of the dangers to your oral health and your overall health.