April is National Oral Cancer Awareness month. For adults who have regular dental check-ups, a visual and ‘touch’ exam is conducted on an annual basis for early detection of areas that may require a closer look. (see below for signs and symptoms)
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, about 65 percent of American adults over the age of 18 have dental check-ups at least once a year (although it is wise to see a dentist every 6 months). Unfortunately, this means nearly 35 percent of adults are missing out on this important step in the prevention of this serious and deadly cancer. (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/dental.htm)
Although survival statistics have improved over the past three decades, an American adult dies from oral cancer every hour of every day. And those affected are getting younger. The average age of people who develop oral cancer is 63, however, over 20 percent of cases occur in those younger than 55. There is a resurgence of oral cancers due to the HPV (human papillomavirus), with an increasing number of young people developing the disease.
Smoking, which contributes to a long list of health problems, is a leading cause of cancer, including oral cancer. In the United States, tobacco use is responsible for nearly 1 in every 5 deaths.
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation:
Tobacco products, heavy use of alcohol and particularly the combined use of both, have been implicated as the main causes of oral cancer.
One study conducted at the University of California (San Francisco) found that more than eight out of ten oral cancer patients were smokers.
The EPA has classified tobacco smoke (containing 43 carcinogens) as a Class A carcinogen – a known cause of human cancer. And, second-hand smoke is nearly as dangerous to non-smokers as firsthand smoke is to smokers themselves.
What does this have to do with dental implants?
Like any part of our body, the mouth can be susceptible to disease. As the entry point to the body, the ‘oral cavity’ has initial contact from many unhealthy elements. From acidic foods to alcohol to smoke to bacteria – the mouth takes the first brunt of much more than we realize. Smoking brings unique challenges. Among the 250 known harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 69 can cause cancer. These cancer-causing chemicals include hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, and ammonia. (https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/tobacco/cessation-fact-sheet)
For people who “vape,” the mouth is still battling a concoction of chemicals. Get a load of what is being inhaled:
• Acetaldehyde and formaldehyde – chemicals known to cause cancer.
• Acrolein – A weed killer that can cause irreversible lung damage.
• Benzene – A compound found in car exhaust that can cause blood problems and cancer of blood-forming organs, such as leukemia.
• Cadmium – Toxic metal that increases breathing problems such as chronic obstructive lung disease and emphysema.
• Diacetyl – Chemical flavoring linked to lung disease known as “popcorn lung.”
• Diethylene glycol – Clear, odorless liquid with a sweet taste found in products such as antifreeze, linked to lung disease
• Nickel, tin, lead and other heavy metals – metal toxicity may damage functioning of lungs, brain, liver, kidneys and other organs
• Nicotine – highly addictive chemical that can affect the heart and breathing
• Propylene glycol – clear, odorless liquid used as antifreeze and a food additive, which can produce propylene oxide, a known carcinogen
The gum tissues in the mouth are absorbent by nature. When harmful components are consumed, even by inhalation, the oral tissues can’t help but be affected.
This now leads us to dental implants. Dental implants are the most ideal tooth replacement option available. Because the implanted portion is held by the jaw bone (just as a natural tooth root), attached teeth have a dependable foundation for biting and chewing. Implants restore a sturdy, stable base so eating, laughing and speaking are worry-free. And, because dental implants are designed to last a lifetime, they are an excellent investment.
For dental implants to last a lifetime, however, they require proper care. Just as natural teeth need regular brushing, flossing and dental cleanings, a smile with dental implants does as well. As with a smile of natural teeth, the goal is to keep oral bacteria to minimal levels. If oral bacteria are allowed to accumulate, an implant is at risk for failure.
The body is designed to combat some problems with a little maintenance. Kept clean, the skin heals when cut or scraped. Held in place, broken bones grow back together. In the mouth, saliva acts as a rinsing agent that moves bacteria and food particles out of the mouth. Having a dry mouth can greatly decrease the flow of saliva, leaving the mouth vulnerable to bacterial growth that runs rampant.
There are a number of reasons for having a dry mouth. Foods and beverages containing caffeine can be drying to oral tissues. A number of medications have a side effect of oral dryness. Mouth breathing and snoring are drying as well. However, smoking is certainly one of the leading causes of ‘dry mouth’. Add its mix of toxins and the oral tissues are bombarded with challenges that cannot be overcome on its own.
When a dental implant is first placed, it is in its most vulnerable state. It needs the bone to grow around it to secure it in place. It also needs the tissues to heal and seal out bacteria that could lead to infection. When healing is slowed due to dry oral tissues, or bacteria reproduces rapidly due to oral dryness, the potential for implant failure increases.
Although the connection between smoking, oral cancer and implant failure seems a wide reach, all three relate closely to the health and well-being of your gum tissues. Keeping a healthy mouth reduces the potential to develop problems that can be costly and time-consuming to repair. Some are even deadly. The signs and symptoms of oral cancer include:
The lessons in this are (1) be committed to your regular dental exams and cleanings; (2) know the signs and symptoms of oral cancer (see below); and (3) know the oral risks of smoking (whether tobacco or e-cigs). Remember, your mouth is the window to the body – vital to appearance, speech, nutritional intake, and your smile! Treat it with the care it deserves!