THE HEART OF THE MATTER
a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA) 

Week: 522.1 Guest: Mike Siegel, M.D. Topic: Dental Procedures That Save Lives Host: Steve Girard Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA: We spoke recently with Dr. Mike Siegel...Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs at the University of Maryland Dental School...and he gave us a glimpse into what a dentist can tell about your health by peering into your mouth. Today, we're talking about a dentist's role in prevention, and survival of cancer...and how a mother to-be can prevent a potentially serious infection with a trip to a dentist. Mike... a dentist has a lot to look for during an oral exam...but one especially important thing...right?

Siegel: What they don't often realize is that anytime a dentist looks in their mouth and does an initial exam, and takes their tongue with a piece of gauze to look at it...what they're really looking for is to insure that they don't see something might represent oral cancer. Unfortunately, oral cancer is deadly. Of all the cancers that happen in people, four to six percent, or about one in twenty cancers is in the mouth. And because of where it is, in terms of your head and your neck, it is a very bad place to have cancer, and unfortunately, unless its caught very early, it can be deadly. NEMA: A lot is made of the connection between tobacco products and oral cancer...what about alcohol's role......

Siegel: There is very little question, that over the years, we see much more cancer in people who drink and smoke. There's no argument there...there's no question that alcohol causes forms of liver cancer. Alcohol is one of those things that predisposes to cancer. The British use something called their Five S's, interestingly, to remember oral cancer....and two of those S's are smoking, and spirits!

NEMA: Pregnant women can avoid a potential problem with a trip to a dentist, true?

Siegel: The mouth can reflect certain changes in her hormones. When estrogen levels rise, it tends to predispose the mouth to a gingivitis....or redness and bleeding of the gums. And a very simple tooth cleaning, at the proper time of pregnancy can entirely prevent that in most cases. The problem becomes, if it goes too far, and the pregnant woman gets an infection in her mouth, unfortunately, potentially...that could affect the health of the baby and her pregnancy. Most good OBGYN physicians will recommend to women that they see their dentist along the time of their pregnancy to ensure the health of their mouth. That in turn will ensure the normalcy of the pregnancy, and the birth of a healthy child.

NEMA: Some folks made aware of some oral problems may believe the cost of consulting a dentist daunting.....

Siegel: People think, my Goodness, its going to cost me a fortune and a half to go see a dentist. And that's not necessarily the case...a routine exam, and just a checkup is normally very cost effective. It is much simpler to prevent something from happening, than to try to fix it after its happened, so its the old cliché about an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

NEMA: Thanks, Dr. Siegel....if you need care, and don't think you can afford it...call a Dental Society....there's one in your area...they can lay out some options for you...and most likely help you get the care you need. I'm SG