Early Signs of Mouth Cancer

Mouth cancer, also known as oral cancer, affects more than 50,000 newly diagnosed people every year. It’s scary, it’s serious, and it can be deadly. However, it’s not all bad news. In fact, oral cancer can be treated successfully if it’s caught early and treatment begins quickly. To do this, your dentist in Wicker Park, as well as yourself, need to check for signs of oral cancer often. But what exactly should you look for? 

Oral Cancer Signs & Symptoms

Some of the early signs of oral cancer can easily be confused with other non-serious oral health conditions. This is one thing that can make oral cancer tricky to catch. However, if any of the signs and symptoms below don’t go away within 2-3 weeks, schedule an appointment with your Wicker Park dentist to get checked out. 

  • Chronic cough
  • Changes in voice 
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • An earache on one side 
  • A hard lump in the soft tissues
  • Swollen tonsil on one side without pain
  • A painless lump on the outside of the neck
  • Any sore that doesn’t heal itself within 2-weeks
  • Discoloration in the mouth including a red, white, or black appearance

Check Your Mouth Initiative

Created by The Oral Cancer Foundation, the Check Your Mouth public health initiative was designed to help people self-identify potential abnormalities in the mouth. Now, while this tool is incredibly helpful for those at-home checks, they don’t replace your dentist. The best way to truly diagnose oral cancer is through your dentist in Wicker Park. This is one reason why bi-annual dental visits are so important as they allow your dental team to see any changes that may have occurred since your last appointment and treat them appropriately. 

Reduce The Risk

Oral cancer can happen to anyone at any time. But there are a few people who are at increased risk of developing oral cancer, including:

  • People 50 or older — Oral cancer tends to be most prominent after 50. 
  • Current or former tobacco users — 80% of those who get oral cancer either currently use tobacco or did at one time. 
  • Heavy drinkers Another habit that can increase the risk of oral cancer is drinking alcohol heavily. Nearly 70% of those diagnosed with oral cancer are heavy drinkers.
  • Men — Men are more likely to develop oral cancer than women. 

If you’re overdue for a dental visit or have an area of concern, we welcome you to schedule an appointment at our Wicker Park dental office today. We’re always happy to help! 

Is a Chipped Tooth a Dental Emergency?

Whether you chip your molar on a hidden popcorn kernel or have an unexpected accident that breaks a front tooth, you’ll want to get seen by your dentist in Wicker Park sooner rather than later. Early treatment is the best way to fix a cracked tooth before it has a chance to develop into potentially bigger problems. However, is a chipped or broken tooth a dental emergency? Let’s find out. 

Understanding Emergencies

Not every case of a broken tooth is a dental emergency, but there are some clear indicators of when a broken or cracked tooth needs emergency care. Some of the most common signs of a dental emergency include: 

  • A major fracture when a large piece of the tooth is missing
  • Intense dental pain
  • Bleeding that doesn’t stop

If you have any of the above, call your dentist in Wicker Park and schedule an appointment as soon as possible. 

Taking Care of a Cracked Tooth

If your symptoms aren’t severe or considered an emergency, you should still call your dentist to get an appointment as quickly as you can. While you wait, there are some things you can do at home to take care of a cracked tooth. 

  • Swish with warm saltwater. This can help remove bacteria and may even reduce swelling. 
  • Apply an ice pack to your cheek to further decrease swelling. However, never apply the ice pack itself directly to your face. Make sure there is a barrier between the skin and the ice. 
  • Use an over-the-counter dental anesthetic to keep the area numb. 
  • Take a pain reliever to reduce inflammation and minimize pain. Take only as directed and if your health allows for it. 

Know the Signs

It is possible to crack a tooth and not even know it. You may not even have any pain or notice any indication that there’s a problem. But untreated cracks can lead to bigger problems down the road which is why it’s important to see your dentist in Wicker Park twice a year. We can detect problems you may not be aware of while they’re still easy to treat and before they cause any pain. However, there are also times when it will be clear that you cracked a tooth. Some of the most common signs of a cracked tooth are: 

  • Discomfort while chewing
  • Tooth sensitivity to heat, cold, and sweet things
  • Pain that comes and goes

Treating a Cracked Tooth

Once your dentist in Wicker Park can thoroughly assess your cracked tooth, your specific treatment plan will depend on your needs. Some ways cracked teeth are fixed include: 

  • Bonding – A small crack will probably be treated with dental bonding. During this treatment, tooth-colored bonding resin is used to fill in all the cracks and will restore your tooth. 
  • Dental Crowns – Larger cracks may need to be capped with a dental crown. Crowns are custom-created to match your other teeth for a seamless restoration. 
  • Root Canal – Deep cracks that break into the inner tooth may require a root canal. A root canal will remove the inner tooth pulp, relieve pain, and protect the tooth from infection. 
  • Tooth Extraction – Severe tooth cracks that compromise the integrity of the inner and outer tooth may need to be extracted. But afterward, an extracted tooth may be fixed with a dental bridge or implant. 

Nobody ever wants to worry about a cracked tooth. But your dentist is here to help. Schedule an appointment today if you think you may have cracked a tooth or if it’s been longer than six months since your last dental checkup. 

“Why Do I Get Cavities?” 

You brush your teeth every morning and before bed each night. Yet when you go to your dental appointments, your dentist in Wicker Park still finds cavities. When this happens, you may be asking yourself, “Why do I get cavities even if I take good care of my teeth?”, which can certainly be frustrating. So let’s take a closer look at where cavities come from and the best ways to avoid them. 

Brushing Alone Isn’t Enough

You may still get cavities even if you brush your teeth religiously. You see, if you’re not also flossing daily, you’re not thoroughly removing bacteria and plaque buildup from each and every tooth. Flossing is an often overlooked part of daily dental care, but it’s an incredibly important part of protecting your teeth against cavities and other serious oral health concerns such as gum disease. In fact, most adult cavities form in between teeth where a standard toothbrush can’t reach and where food particles love to hide. When foodstuff isn’t removed, the bacteria with it will start to eat away at tooth enamel and eventually create a cavity. Take it from your dentist in Wicker Park — the time it takes to floss daily is worth preventing a cavity from forming down the road.

Doesn’t Sugar Cause Cavities? 

Many patients believe that sugar causes cavities, and while that’s not completely accurate, sugar intake is directly related to cavity formation. Even though sugar itself doesn’t cause cavities, the way it interacts with mouth bacteria does. 

  • Plaque Problems

When we eat foods or drink beverages high in sugar and those sugars aren’t promptly removed from teeth, problems of plaque begin. Plaque is a clear, sticky film that covers your teeth. It forms when mouth bacteria feed on leftover sugars in the mouth. When this plaque isn’t removed, it can harden into tartar. 

  • Tricky Tartar

Once tartar develops, it can’t be removed through regular bushings at home and will need to be removed by your dentist in Wicker Park. But that’s not all. Tartar can essentially protect bacteria and leave it alone to further attack teeth. When these bacteria feed they release an acidic byproduct. This acid attacks tooth enamel, causes erosion, and begins the process of decay. If not caught and treated early, this decay will continue to attack deep into the tooth and may require more than a dental filling – it may need a root canal and perhaps a dental crown.

Signs of a Cavity

In their early stages, cavities may not show any signs or symptoms, which is the best time to catch them as treatment is easier and faster. However, larger cavities can display some common signs such as: 

  • Increased sensitivity
  • Pain when biting down
  • Seemingly random tooth pain
  • Pain when eating sweets
  • Visible holes

If you notice signs of a cavity, see your dentist as soon as possible so you can get out of pain and protect yourself from further damage. 

Since many cavities don’t show signs early on, it’s important to see your dentist in Wicker Park every six months for regular checkups and cleanings. These appointments can help catch cavities when they’re little and easy to treat and before they have a chance to develop into something more serious. 

Are Dental X-Rays Really Necessary? 

There are certain things you expect when you visit your dentist in Wicker Park — to get a cleaning, a thorough exam, perhaps a filling or two, and occasionally some x-rays. But are dental x-rays actually necessary? After all, if nothing looks wrong or feels wrong, do you really need to get them? The short answer is yes, and for several reasons. 

What Are Dental X-Rays? 

Just like an x-ray of your arm or leg, dental x-rays take images that show the hard surfaces in your mouth. The energy of x-rays passes through the skin and highlights only dense areas such as teeth and bone. The skeletal-like images produced from x-rays give your dentist in Wicker Park an inside look at your oral health and can help identify problems that can’t be seen through a visual or manual dental exam alone.

What Do Dental X-Rays Show? 

We already know that dental x-rays show the teeth and bone, but what does your dentist look for on x-rays? The truth is, x-ray images can identify several things that could otherwise be missed and progress into more serious problems. 

  • Decay

Dental x-rays are most commonly used to help diagnose decay and cavities when they’re still small and easier to treat. You may not yet even have any signs of a cavity, but a quick x-ray can show one developing. X-rays can also catch decay that can develop under a previous dental restoration such as a crown or a filling. Finding and treating these areas of decay early can save you from ever experiencing the pain that could result if left alone. 

  • Abscess

When a patient has a toothache, their dentist in Wicker Park will most likely start by taking a few x-rays to get a closer look at the area. Oftentimes, a toothache can be a sign of an infection, also known as an abscess. To treat an abscess, your dentist will most likely remove the infected area of the tooth and may choose to cap it with a dental crown. Severe cases may even require an extraction. 

  • Bone Loss

Our teeth are typically strongly secured into our jaw bone. But things like gum disease, missing teeth, and osteoporosis can cause the jaw bone to deteriorate. This bone loss can increase the risk of tooth loss, cause headaches and jaw pain, and can even affect the appearance of the face making it appear wrinkly or saggy.  

Are Dental X-Rays Safe? 

We understand that there may be some concerns surrounding the use of dental x-rays and exposure to radiation. However, advancements in dental technology have made digital dental x-rays one of the lowest forms of radiation emission. In fact, research conducted by the Kois Center for Dental Education shows that four bitewing x-rays emit only 0.005 mSv (millisieverts) of radiation. This is less than what humans are exposed to naturally every day. 

Even though you may not get dental x-rays at every appointment, you should get them when they are recommended. They will help your dentist provide personalized care, catch and treat problems early, and help you maintain a healthy smile.

Love, Hearts, and… Gum Disease?

heart health monthEach and every February, loved ones throughout the United States go above and beyond preparing for Valentine’s Day. Whether you choose to show your love with chocolates or flowers, one thing remains constant — bright red hearts are everywhere we look. But there’s another reason (besides Valentine’s Day) that we should pay attention to these hearts. February is American Heart Health Month and focuses on raising awareness of how daily choices affect our risk of heart disease. In fact, this holiday has a special place in your Wicker Park dentist’s heart because there is a strong connection between oral health and heart health. 

What is Gum Disease?

Gum disease is an infection in the gum tissues usually caused by a buildup of bacteria and plaque. When someone doesn’t brush their teeth often enough or well enough, plaque is left behind and can easily work its way up under the gum, settle in, and cause trouble. 

There are four stages of gum disease including: 

  • Gingivitis
  • Slight Periodontal Disease
  • Moderate Periodontal Disease
  • Advanced Periodontal Disease

Gum disease can be treated if caught in the gingivitis stage, so make sure you visit your dentist in Wicker Park every six months for dental cleanings, x-rays, and thorough exams so we can identify any problems early.

What Does This Have to Do With Your Heart?

If gingivitis isn’t diagnosed and treated quickly it will progress into slight, moderate, or advanced periodontal disease, all of which are irreversible. When gum disease progresses into these advanced stages, the infection can enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body. This can affect areas outside of the mouth, including the heart.  

Heart Disease 

Bacteria from gum disease in the bloodstream causes the body to produce too much C-reactive protein (CRP). Higher than normal levels of CRP can lead to serious conditions such as: 

  • Inflamed arteries
  • Blood clots
  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes 

Knowing that your oral health can have such an impact on your overall wellness makes it so incredibly important that you practice good oral hygiene habits at home, including brushing twice a day for two minutes and flossing every day.   

Signs of Gum Disease

Since early diagnosis is so crucial to treating gum disease before it has the chance to affect the rest of your body, you need to know the signs of gum disease. Keep an eye out for: 

  • Bleeding when brushing or flossing
  • Puffy, tender gums
  • Bad breath
  • Loose teeth  

If you notice any of the signs of gum disease, call your dentist in Wicker Park to schedule an appointment

This American Heart Health Month, commit to reducing your chances of heart disease by brushing and flossing every day, seeing your dentist in Wicker Park twice a year, exercise, and eat a healthy diet. For more ideas on how to live a heart-healthy life, visit the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Why You Shouldn’t Use Your Teeth as Tools

boy opening something with teethWe’ve all used our teeth to tear open packaging that’s just too hard to open with our hands. However, your dentist in Wicker Park wants to remind you that there are tools designed to specifically help us open pesky packages, and those tools aren’t our teeth. Both children and adults alike can damage their teeth if they’re used for anything other than chewing food. Let’s take a look at some of the most common ways tooth damage occurs when we use teeth as tools. 

  • Popping Bottle Caps

For adults, there’s a popular, yet dangerous, ‘bar trick’ that involves a bottle top being popped open using nothing but teeth. Truthfully, the thought of doing that makes our teeth hurt, and actually doing it can certainly cause trouble. But this unexplainable trick isn’t the only time teeth may be used to open bottles. Any screw top bottle can be difficult to open, and instead of asking for help, some people tend to brace the cap between their molars, bite down, and twist. This unnatural pressure on the teeth can cause them to chip or break and will require treatment from your dentist in Wicker Park to fix. 

  • Cutting or Opening Packages 

Two of the most common ways kids and adults use their teeth as tools are to use them to quickly open packages or to cut tags that, in reality, should be handled with scissors. We get it, it’s often faster to rip a tag off a new shirt or rip open that bag of chips with your teeth instead of finding a pair of scissors. However, doing so can also result in broken or chipped teeth. Additionally, cuts to the gums, lips, or other areas around the mouth can also occur. 

  • Carrying Items When You’re Out of Hands

It’s human nature to try to optimize our time by carrying as many things as possible in one trip. However, we only have so many hands and can only carry so many items at one time. The solution to this? Well, many of us turn to our mouths as another hand. Our teeth aren’t designed to grip and hold onto things, and doing so can result in damage to the teeth themselves or even your jaw. Not to mention, there’s a serious risk of choking or serious injury if you fall while holding something in your mouth. When in doubt, make a few trips. 

  • Nibbling On Non-Food Items

While our teeth are designed to chew and breakdown foods, they aren’t necessarily designed to chew on everything. Things like fingernails, pens, and pencils can also cause tooth damage as well as put unnecessary stress on the jaw joint. Additionally, these items can be covered in germs which, if ingested, can make us sick. 

Using teeth for anything other than what they’re designed for can be dangerous, so stick to the basics and use your teeth only to chew your food. However, if you do sustain a tooth injury, we encourage you to call your Wicker Park dentist to schedule an appointment quickly so you can get the care you need and get back to smiling in no time. 

Make 2021 The Year of Oral Health

We’ve officially turned the page into a new calendar year, and this year, we’ve never been happier to put the previous year behind us. Even though ringing in 2021 probably looked a little different this year, there’s one thing that remains the same year after year — New Year’s Resolutions. These goals strive to set us off on the right path, and your dentist in Wicker Park wants to encourage you to make this year the year you dedicate to your oral health. 

4 Ways to Care For Your Smile This Year

New Year’s Resolutions often revolve around living a healthier, happier life and may include eating better, working out more, or quitting bad habits. But did you know that your oral health goes hand-in-hand with overall health? This is why caring for your smile should be a part of any resolution you’ve made this year. Let’s take a look at four easy ways you can care for your teeth and protect your oral and overall health all year long. 

  • Brush & Floss Daily

The most obvious thing you can do to take better care of your smile is to commit to brushing and flossing your teeth daily. You should brush your teeth in the morning and at night, and floss your teeth at least once a day. Proper oral hygiene can prevent bacteria buildup and keep cavities, gum disease, and bad breath away. 

  • Eat & Drink Wisely

If you’ve already promised yourself to eat healthier this year, you’re one step ahead. But eating a well-balanced diet can also help protect teeth. Choose crunchy vegetables and foods high in calcium and vitamin D such as cheese. What you drink also matters. Your dentist in Wicker Park recommends limiting sugary or acidic drinks and sticking to water as often as possible. 

  • Stop Smoking

Perhaps one of the hardest resolutions to take on is to stop smoking or using any form of tobacco due to its addictive properties. However, making a plan and finding a support system can help you kick the habit once and for all. Quitting smoking has overall health benefits as well as oral health benefits such as reducing the risk of oral cancer, gum disease, cavities, and discolored teeth. 

  • See Your Dentist In Wicker Park Regularly

One of the best ways to prevent dental problems from occurring in the first place is to see your dentist twice a year. These checkups give your dental hygienist a chance to professionally clean your teeth and remove plaque that can’t be removed at home. Additionally, they give your dentist the opportunity to check for any changes in your oral health so you can get any necessary treatment faster, often making it easier and more successful. 

Make this year the year you commit to taking care of your overall health and your oral health. If it’s been longer than six months since you’ve seen a dentist, we welcome you to call us to schedule an appointment today. 

How White Should Teeth Be? 

There are plenty of advantages to having white teeth, including the confidence to smile in pictures, good self-esteem, and a pat on the back from your dentist in Wicker Park. But sometimes, tooth whitening can be taken too far. Whitening your teeth too much or too often can actually damage your teeth and lead to other problems. 

Finding Your Ideal Shade of White Teeth

Advancements in dental technology have made it possible for anyone to transform the color of their teeth and get a whiter smile. But this whitening craze has been known to go too far. Like most things, smile whitening is best done in moderation and with the help of a dentist. In fact, your dentist in Wicker Park can not only help you find the best whitening treatment for you, but they can also help find your ideal shade. Even though the choice is ultimately up to you, a good rule of thumb to follow is to make sure your teeth aren’t any whiter than the whites of your eyes for the most natural appearance. 

What Happens If You Whiten Too Much

Over-whitening your teeth is a very real possibility that comes with very real consequences. Whitening your teeth too much can cause enamel erosion, which is not only impossible to reverse but can also lead to serious problems such as: 

  • Darker Teeth – The whole goal of whitening your teeth is to get a brighter smile. However, over-whitening that erodes your enamel can cause teeth to appear translucent and, as a result, darker than they did before whitening. 
  • Increased Sensitivity – One of the main side effects of smile whitening is tooth sensitivity. Most of the time this sensitivity is temporary, however, when teeth are exposed to too many whitening treatments or too often sensitivity can become severe and last a long time. 
  • Irritated Gums – Bleaching your teeth can also cause gum irritation, especially if too much of the bleach is allowed to touch and stay on the gums for the entire duration of the treatment. This is why a custom whitening tray is usually the best way to whiten your teeth. 
  • Decay – Without the protection of enamel, teeth are left exposed to damaging bacteria and acids that increase the risk of tooth decay and cavities. 

It’s important to note that while most smile whitening treatments are safe, you should absolutely talk with your dentist in Wicker Park before buying any over-the-counter tooth whitening treatment. 

A brighter, whiter smile is possible, we just want you to do it safely. When whitening your teeth at home, follow all directions, don’t leave the whitening treatment on for longer than recommended, and only whiten your teeth as directed on the label. Better yet, schedule a professional whitening treatment with your dentist. Professional whitening is often the safest option since you’ll be observed by your dental team the entire time. Additionally, smile whitening treatments aren’t the best choice for everyone, and your dentist will be able to tell you whether or not you’ll be able to get the smile you want through a whitening treatment… or if you should consider other forms of cosmetic dentistry.

You May Catch More Than Feelings From a Mistletoe Kiss

It’s a well-known fact that you can catch a lot of things from a simple kiss, such as a cold, or feelings for your fellow smoocher. But did you know that you may even catch a cavity from kissing? Before you pucker up under the mistletoe, your dentist in Wicker Park has a few words of advice. 

Cavity Causes 

Before we can understand how kissing can cause cavities, we first need to know what causes cavities to begin with. Even though many people believe that sugar causes cavities, it’s actually the bacteria that feed on the sugars. Thousands of bacteria are naturally found in the mouth, and brushing and flossing help remove these bacteria. However, when they’re left alone they create acid. This acid then eats away at the protective tooth enamel, leading to decay. Now, these bacteria are living things and they can be transferred from one person to another, say… through kissing. So essentially, kissing swaps bacteria which can, in turn, cause cavities. 

Kissing Isn’t The Only Culprit

Now that we know the passing of bacteria from person to person is what can increase the risk of cavities, your dentist in Wicker Park wants you to know that kissing isn’t the only way this bacteria sharing occurs. In fact, sharing some common everyday things may also increase the risk of cavities, including: 

  • Utensils or straws
  • Someone else’s toothbrush 
  • Food 
  • Drinks

There are even some reports of individuals who have never had a cavity suddenly getting some after beginning to date someone, and this level of sharing isn’t a very good way to show someone you care. Do your part and save some things for only yourself. 

Kissably Fresh Breath Often Means Fewer Bacteria

We should probably note that not all kissers will develop cavities and it’s much more common in those partnerships where one or both people have higher amounts of bacteria in their mouth. Usually, but not always, this higher level of bacteria can also cause bad breath, so if your kissing partner has fresh breath, they may have lower levels of bacteria. 

It’s Not All Bad

We’re not here to scare you away from smooching loved ones, and we actually have some good news about kissing. Kissing naturally increases saliva flow, and more saliva often means fewer bacteria. After all, saliva is the mouth’s way of rinsing away bacteria and neutralizing dangerous acids. 

Before you pucker up under the mistletoe this holiday season, do yourself and your partner a favor and practice good hygiene habits by brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day. Make sure you also gently scrub your tongue to remove even more bacteria. And as always, make sure to see your dentist in Wicker Park at least twice a year for professional cleanings to keep your breath kissably fresh all year round. 

How Can You Tell The Difference Between Plaque & Tartar? 

There are some key differences between plaque and tartar, and it’s easy for your dentist in Wicker Park to tell them apart. However, how different are these two things that sound awfully similar to each other? Well, the truth is, they’re not that different, but they can affect your teeth in different ways. 

A Closer Look at Plaque & Tartar

Plaque and tartar are similar in the sense that they’re both essentially the same thing, just in different stages. You see, plaque is the sticky film that builds up on our teeth throughout the day. It happens to everyone and it’s usually removed through morning and nighttime brushings. However, when plaque is not removed, it will harden into tartar. Both plaque and tartar can lead to other serious problems throughout the mouth. 

Problems with Plaque & Tartar

We already know that if plaque isn’t removed it will harden into tartar. But there are other ways plaque buildup can affect oral health. Plaque is made up of millions of bacteria, and we eat, we’re not only fueling our bodies… we’re also feeding these bacteria. As a byproduct, these bacteria release acid. This acid can wear down tooth enamel and leave them exposed and at greater risk for cavities. But that’s not all. When plaque is allowed to harden into tartar, it’s no longer able to be removed through at-home brushings. Your dentist in Wicker Park will need to step in to remove tartar before it has a chance to further affect oral health. Tartar has been known to also increase the risk of cavities as well as tooth discoloration, tooth sensitivity, and even gum disease. If gum disease develops, it can snowball into all sorts of problems such as tooth loss and even heart disease. 

How to Prevent and Remove Plaque & Tartar 

The best way to prevent tartar in the first place is by removing plaque. After all, without plaque,  tartar can’t form. Make sure you follow a good oral hygiene routine at home every day to reduce the amount of plaque in your mouth. Brush each morning and every night for at least two minutes and floss at least once daily. Outside of good oral hygiene, you can also help protect yourself from the damaging effects of plaque by eating a well-balanced diet and avoiding sugary sweets. Additionally, try your best to drink plenty of water throughout the day, limit snacking in between meals, and chew sugar-free gum after any meals where you can’t brush your teeth. 

Of course, it’s always important to see your dentist in Wicker Park at least twice a year to get a checkup and remove any tartar that may have built up since your last visit. Your dental team may also be able to tell where tartar tends to pop up so you can pay closer attention to those spots while brushing in between dental appointments. 

Plaque and tartar buildup happens to everyone, but as long as you take good care of your teeth and see your dentist regularly, your risk of developing cavities or other oral health problems decreases. If you’re overdue for a checkup, call our dental office in Wicker Park to schedule an appointment. 

Monica Urda, DDS
1755 W North Avenue
Chicago, IL 60622

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