The Classic Smile

HPV and Oral Cancer

November 17th, 2021

HPV, or human papillomavirus, is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the country. There are over 100 strains of HPV, and, while most of these infections leave our systems on their own with no long-term ill effects, some cancers have been linked to certain “high risk” strains of the virus. One of these strains, HPV16, increases the risk of oral cancer.

HPV-related oral cancer most often appears in the oropharynx. This area of the mouth includes:

  • The base, or back, of the tongue
  • The soft palate
  • The tonsils
  • The back and sides of the throat

While HPV-related oral cancers can appear in other parts of the oral cavity, they most typically occur at the back of the throat and tongue and near the folds of the tonsils. Because of this location, oropharyngeal cancer can be difficult to detect. This is one more important reason to maintain a regular schedule of dental exams. Our examination doesn’t focus only on your teeth and gums. We are trained to look for cancerous and pre-cancerous conditions in the mouth, head, and neck to make sure you have the earliest treatment options should they be needed.

If you discover any potential symptoms of oropharyngeal cancer, call us for a check-up. These symptoms can include:

  • Trouble moving the tongue
  • Trouble swallowing, speaking, or chewing
  • Trouble opening the mouth completely
  • A red or white patch on the tongue or the lining of the mouth
  • A lump in the throat, neck, or tongue
  • A persistent sore throat
  • Ear pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Coughing up blood

Not every symptom is caused by cancer, but it is always best to be proactive. HPV-related oral cancer is rare, but it is on the increase. While HPV-positive oral cancers generally have a better prognosis than HPV-negative oral cancers, early diagnosis and treatment are still essential for the best possible outcome.

Finally, if you are a young adult or have an adolescent child, talk to Dr. Richard Short, Dr. Ronni Schnell, Dr. Dario Gonzalez, and Dr. Shila Sharifi and to your doctor about the HPV vaccine, which is effective before exposure to the virus occurs. Most HPV vaccines, while not designed specifically to prevent oral cancer, prevent the HPV16 strain from infecting the body—the very same strain that causes the majority of HPV-related oral cancers.  Although no studies have shown definitive proof yet, there is strong feeling in the scientific community that these immunizations might protect against HPV-positive oral cancer as well as cervical, vaginal, and other cancers. It’s a discussion worth having at your next visit to our Medford, MA office.

How do I know if my gums are receding?

November 10th, 2021

Gum recession, a common result of gum disease, occurs when the gum tissue that surrounds the teeth wears away or pulls back, forming pockets between the gumline and exposing more of the tooth. Gum recession occurs gradually, so you might not know that you have it. Left untreated, gum recession can result in tooth loss. In addition, there are several studies that suggest that gum disease is associated with modest increases in coronary heart disease. Here are five ways to know if your gums are receding.

1. Healthy gums are firm, light pink, and very elastic. If your gums don’t fit that description, then it’s time to visit our Medford, MA office. Red, swollen gums are a common symptom of gum disease, and may lead to gum recession.

2. Do your gums bleed easily when you brush or floss? If you have gum recession, even if you brush gently and with toothpaste specifically designed for sensitivity, it may still result in bleeding.

3. When you look in the mirror, do you see more of a tooth than you used to? This is one of the easiest ways to tell if you have gum recession. When gums recede, more of the tooth is visibly exposed. Look for lines or notches along the bottom of the teeth, as this typically indicates areas where the gums have receded.

4. One of the first signs of gum recession is tooth sensitivity. Does it hurt when you bite down or chew? The more gums recede, the more painful it is going to be. However, before you experience tooth sensitivity or pain, you may notice awkwardness when you bit down. When gum recession occurs, teeth can shift slightly, making it feel as if they are not properly aligned.

5. Loose teeth are a symptom of advanced gum recession and periodontal disease. In other words, the supporting bone structure of the teeth has already begun to deteriorate. If left untreated, it will result in tooth loss.

From deep cleaning (scaling) to gingival tissue grafting surgery, there are several ways to combat gum recession and periodontal disease. How gum recession is treated depends on how far advanced it is. Talk to Dr. Richard Short, Dr. Ronni Schnell, Dr. Dario Gonzalez, and Dr. Shila Sharifi about what options are best for you.

Healthy Gum, Healthy Mouth

October 27th, 2021

“Shouldn’t that be healthy gums,” you’re thinking? And, of course, you’re correct. Healthy gums are extremely important not only for our dental well-being, but for our overall physical health.

But that’s a subject for another blog! Today, we’re talking about healthy gum—chewing gum, that is. Because choosing the right chewing gum can actually improve your dental health.

Oral bacteria use the foods we eat, especially sugars and simple carbs, as fuel to produce acid. These acids attack our tooth enamel, gradually weakening the minerals in the tooth surface and allowing cavities to develop. Clearly, we want to reduce these acids to help prevent decay. Luckily, our bodies have a natural defense against acid attacks—saliva.

Saliva works to protect our enamel in three ways:

  • It helps neutralize and wash away acids in the mouth.
  • It rinses away the food particles which bacteria feed on.
  • It strengthens teeth by providing the necessary minerals our enamel needs to “remineralize” after acids have weakened the tooth surface.

Studies have concluded that chewing sugarless gum for 20 minute after a meal can help prevent cavities. Why? Because chewing gum increases saliva production. You are actually reducing the effects of harmful acids, washing food particles away from your teeth, and strengthening weakened enamel with every stick! Some artificial sweeteners are even thought to inhibit the growth of the bacteria that lead to decay.

With all that in mind, it’s also healthy to know when you shouldn’t chew gum:

  • When the gum contains sugar. Even with an increase in saliva production, bathing your teeth in sugar as you chew does your enamel no favors!
  • When you wear braces. Gum can stick to your brackets and between your brackets and your wires. And while trying to clean gum from your appliance is no one’s idea of fun, an even more unpleasant possibility is the chance that gum might bend your wires out of shape. Sugarless gum is not quite as sticky as regular gum, but before you open that first pack, check with your orthodontist to see if you might be putting your orthodontic work at risk.
  • When you have jaw problems such as TMD, TMJ or other temporomandibular concerns, or if you develop jaw pain while chewing gum.
  • You should never give gum to a child too young to understand that it should not be swallowed. Beyond acting as a choking hazard, continual gum swallowing can lead to diarrhea, blockages, abdominal pain and other serious problems. Talk to your Dr. Richard Short, Dr. Ronni Schnell, Dr. Dario Gonzalez, and Dr. Shila Sharifi about the right age for chewing gum.

While chewing sugarless gum has the potential to improve dental health, remember it should never take the place of regular brushing and flossing—still the best way to prevent cavities at home. Talk to Dr. Richard Short, Dr. Ronni Schnell, Dr. Dario Gonzalez, and Dr. Shila Sharifi about the possible benefits of sugarless gum at your next visit to our Medford, MA office, and we can make recommendations based on your individual dental history. Because whether it’s healthy gums or healthy gum, we’re here to help.

Protecting Your Smile with Mouthguards

October 20th, 2021

If you participate in sports or other physical activities, it’s wise to consider getting a mouthguard. Also known as mouth protectors, mouthguards are a device worn over the teeth to lessen the impact of a blow to the face.

This reduces the chance that you might lose teeth or sustain other serious oral injuries. We recommend that all patients involved in a contact sport such as wrestling, football, or hockey wear a mouthguard because of the high risk of such injuries.

However, anyone involved in a physically demanding sport or activity should wear a mouthguard as well.

Can you imagine what it would be like to lose a few of your front teeth? The way you talk, eat, and smile would all change. Potential injuries when you don’t wear a mouthguard include chipped and broken teeth, fractured jaws, root damage, damage to crowns and bridgework, concussions, and/or injury to the lips, cheeks, or gums.

Types of Mouthguards

There are three different types of mouthguards — typically made of a soft plastic material or laminate. You can decide which works best for you in terms of budget, fit, and comfort.

  • Stock mouthguards are prefabricated to a standard size. They offer adequate protection, but you need to make sure you find one that fits properly and comfortably. Stock mouthguards are readily available at department stores, sporting goods stores, and online.
  • Boil-and-bite mouthguards are placed in boiling water to soften them, then into the mouth so they can conform to the shape of the teeth. Boil-and-bite mouthguards are more expensive, but offer a more customized fit than stock ones. You can find these in department stores, pharmacies, sporting goods stores, and online.
  • Custom-made mouthguards are created just for you by Dr. Richard Short, Dr. Ronni Schnell, Dr. Dario Gonzalez, and Dr. Shila Sharifi. These offer the best fit and comfort of all the options, but they are also the most expensive. Ask a member of our Medford, MA team for more information.

The American Dental Association says a good mouthguard should be easy to clean, fit properly, be comfortable, and resist tearing or damage. It shouldn’t restrict speech or breathing.

Still not sure if you need a mouthguard or which kind is right for you? Ask Dr. Richard Short, Dr. Ronni Schnell, Dr. Dario Gonzalez, and Dr. Shila Sharifi or one of our staff members for more information.

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