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How do I know if I’m at risk for oral cancer?

August 15th, 2018

Every year, over 50,000 North Americans are diagnosed with oral or throat cancer, which has a higher death rate than many other common cancers, including cervical cancer, testicular cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and thyroid or skin cancers. The high death rate results from the fact that most oral cancers go undiagnosed until the disease is well advanced and has spread to another part of the body, most often, the lymph nodes in the neck.

Because oral cancer is typically painless in its early stages and often goes undetected until it spreads, many patients aren’t diagnosed until they are already suffering from chronic pain or loss of function. However, if detected early, Drs. James and Mary Rose Twohig and our team at Twohig Dentistry want you to know that early detection of oral cancer improves the survival rate to 80 percent or more.

If you visit our Albuquerque office regularly, you have probably received an oral cancer screening and didn’t even realize it. That’s because the exam is quick and painless; Drs. James and Mary Rose Twohig and our team check your neck and mouth for signs of oral cancer such as discolorations, lumps, or any changes to your tissue. Oral cancer is typically found on the tongue, lips, gums, the floor of the mouth, or tissues in back of the tongue.

Factors that may influence your risk for developing oral cancer include:

  • Use of tobacco products. Smoking cigarettes, cigars, a pipe, or chewing tobacco all elevate risk for developing oral cancer. Tobacco use especially is a serious risk factor because it contains substances called carcinogens, which are harmful to cells in your mouth.
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol. Those who drink alcohol regularly have an elevated risk of getting oral cancer. Alcohol abuse (more than 21 drinks in one week) is the second largest risk factor for the development of oral cancer, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation.
  • Excessive sun exposure. Those who spend lots of time outdoors and do not use proper amounts of sunscreen or lip balm have a greater risk for developing lip cancer. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight may also cause melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.
  • Your age. Oral cancer is typically a disease that affects older people, usually because of their longer exposure to other risk factors. Most patients diagnosed with oral cancer are over the age of 40.
  • Your gender. Oral cancer strikes men twice as often as it does women.
  • A history with viral infections, such as human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • A diet low in fruits and vegetables.

In between your visits to our office, it is critical for you to be aware of the following signs and symptoms, and give us a call if these symptoms don’t go away after two weeks.

  • A sore or irritation that doesn’t disappear
  • Red or white patches
  • Pain, tenderness, or numbness in mouth or lips
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving your jaw or tongue
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together when you close your mouth

During your next visit, Drs. James and Mary Rose Twohig will examine your mouth for signs of oral cancer. If you have been putting off a visit to our Albuquerque office for your regular checkup, now is an excellent time to schedule one. Regular visits can be the first line of defense against oral cancer because we can identify early warning signs of the disease. Give us a call today!

Are you at risk for tooth erosion?

August 8th, 2018

Many people consume carbonated or sugary drinks and acidic foods every day but have no idea those beverages may be harming their teeth, making them vulnerable to tooth erosion. The acid in the foods we eat and drink can cause tooth enamel to wear away, making your teeth sensitive and discolored. Drs. James and Mary Rose Twohig will tell you that in many cases, what’s important is not what you eat and drink, but rather how you consume it.

What is tooth erosion?

Tooth erosion is the loss of tooth structure caused by the weakening of dental enamel, which is the strongest substance in the human body. Enamel is the thin, outer layer of hard tissue that helps maintain the tooth’s structure and shape. When the enamel is weakened, it exposes the underlying dentin, causing your teeth to appear yellow.

What causes tooth erosion?

Tooth erosion may occur when the acids in the foods and beverages you eat and drink, as well as other factors we will discuss later, weaken the enamel on your teeth. Typically the calcium contained in saliva will help remineralize (strengthen) your teeth after you consume foods or drinks that contain some acid. However, the presence of a lot of acid in your mouth does not allow for remineralization to happen.

Acid can come from many sources, including the following:

  • Drinking carbonated or fruit drinks. All soft drinks (even diet varieties) contain a lot of acid and are capable of dissolving enamel on your teeth. Bacteria thrive on sugar and produce high acid levels that can eat away at enamel.
  • Eating sour foods or candies. All those sour candies may taste great, but these treats can be acidic to your teeth. Sour and fruity candy, such as Starburst and Skittles, are the worst for your teeth since these candies have a low pH value, which is known to ruin enamel.
  • Low saliva volume. Saliva helps prevent decay by neutralizing acids and washing away leftover food in your mouth.
  • Acid reflux disease. Acid reflux, or GERD, brings stomach acids up to the mouth, where the acids can erode enamel.
  • Bulimia or binge drinking. These conditions can cause tooth damage because they frequently expose teeth to stomach acids.
  • Wear and tear. Brushing your teeth too vigorously or grinding your teeth at night can erode enamel.

What are the symptoms of tooth erosion?

Acid wear may lead to serious dental problems. When your tooth enamel erodes, your teeth become more vulnerable to cavities and decay, and you may begin noticing the following symptoms:

  • Severe sensitivity or tooth pain when consuming hot, cold, or sugary foods or drinks
  • Tooth discoloration
  • Rounded teeth
  • Transparent teeth
  • Visible cracks in teeth
  • Cupping, or dents, that show up on the biting or chewing surfaces of the teeth

What you can do to prevent tooth erosion

  • Reduce or eliminate altogether your consumption of carbonated drinks. Instead, sip water, milk, or tea.
  • If you must consume acidic drinks, drink them quickly and be sure to use a straw so that the liquid is pushed to the back of the mouth. Don’t swish them around or hold them in your mouth for a long period of time.
  • Instead of snacking on acidic foods throughout the day, we suggest eating these foods just during meal times in order to minimize the amount of time the acid makes contact with your teeth.
  • After consuming highly acidic food or drinks, rinse with water to neutralize the acids.
  • Chew sugar-free gum to produce more saliva, as this helps your teeth remineralize.
  • Brush with a soft toothbrush and be sure your toothpaste contains fluoride.
  • Drs. James and Mary Rose Twohig may also recommend daily use of a toothpaste to reduce sensitivity (over-the-counter or prescription strength) or other products to counter the effects of erosion.

It’s important to know that the majority of dental problems, such as tooth erosion, do not become visible or painful until they are advanced. And, unfortunately, serious oral issues are painful and expensive to treat. A deep cleaning twice a year by our team at Twohig Dentistry is the best way to hit all the spots you may have missed with brushing and flossing and prevent any issues that may have gone unseen.

Make sure your teeth get the professional attention they deserve! If you are overdue for your next checkup or cleaning, please give us a call to schedule an appointment at our conv

Tips for Managing Oral Pain

August 1st, 2018

Experiencing tooth or oral pain is not fun. If you cannot get to Twohig Dentistry right away, the pain may even seem to increase. The old saying that a tooth will stop hurting once you get to a dentist is not that far from true. However, there are many tips you can try to relieve your oral pain until you can see Drs. James and Mary Rose Twohig.

Common Pain Relief Options

First, try to determine the source of the pain. This is sometimes not possible, but it may help. If you are experiencing pain between your teeth or along the gum line, try swishing some warm salt water in your mouth. One teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of warm (not hot) water is all you need.

The pain you are experiencing could be a particle of food stuck under your gum. You can also try flossing as long as bleeding is not present. Salt water soothes other mouth irritations to reduce pain.

You can try over-the-counter pain relievers, including oral medications or topical gels. Avoid taking aspirin; it thins your blood, which could end up being a problem for dental work. Wash your hands before applying any topical pain treatments to avoid spreading germs.

Clove Oil

Clove oil works quickly to relieve most oral pain. Place a few drops of clove oil on a damp cotton ball and place the cotton in your mouth near the painful area. Do not use this method overnight, because you don’t want to swallow the cotton.

Whole cloves can also be used, but try to remove any sharp edges first. Place a few pieces in your mouth and allow your saliva to soften the clove. Some sources say that chewing the clove helps, but you shouldn’t do this if you have a fractured tooth.

Other Household Remedies

If you have cough drops that include benzocaine or menthol, you can try sucking on a cough drop for relief. Placing a warm, wet tea bag against a painful oral area can sometimes reduce the pain as well.

Toothpastes designed to relieve pain from sensitive teeth may work. While these pastes do take time to reach full effectiveness, they can be helpful if you have to wait several days.

Remember that these tips are only designed to provide temporary pain relief. You need to schedule an appointment at Twohig Dentistry quickly. Call and schedule an emergency appointment with Drs. James and Mary Rose Twohig as soon as possible.

The History and Mythology of the Tooth Fairy

July 25th, 2018

While the last baby teeth generally aren’t lost until age ten or 11, most children stop believing in the tooth fairy by the time they're seven or eight. Of course, children are more than happy to play along with the game when there’s money at stake! While it is impossible to know what the tooth fairy does with all those teeth (are they labeled and stored like museum pieces in a giant fairytale castle?), it is possible to trace the history and myth of the tooth fairy to several cultures and traditions. Drs. James and Mary Rose Twohig and our team learned about some interesting myths about the tooth fairy!

The Middle Ages

Legend has it that Europeans in the Middle Ages believed a witch could curse someone by using their teeth, so it was important to dispose of baby teeth correctly. Teeth were swallowed, buried, or burned. Sometimes baby teeth were even left for rodents to eat. Despite being pests, rodents were valued for their strong teeth; it was generally believed a tooth fed to a rodent would lead to the development of a healthy and strong adult tooth.

Eighteenth Century France

The tooth fairy myth began to show more characteristics of a conventional fairytale in 18th century France. La Bonne Petite Souris, a bedtime story, tells the strange tale of a fairy that changes into a mouse to help a good queen defeat an evil king. The mouse secretly hides under the evil king’s pillow and defeats him by knocking out his teeth.

Scandinavian Lore

So, why does the tooth fairy leave money under the pillow? The idea of exchanging a tooth for coins originated in Scandinavia. Vikings paid children for a lost tooth. Teeth were worn on necklaces as good luck charms in battle. While the idea of exchanging a tooth for coins quickly spread throughout the rest of Europe, a fierce, horn-helmeted Viking is far cry from the image of a fairy collecting teeth.

While the tooth fairy as children know her today didn’t make an appearance until the 1900s, tooth myths and rites of passage have existed in numerous cultures since the dawn of time.

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