Beyond the Smile

02 Apr 2019

New discoveries in dentistry are proving that biannual visits are more important for our overall health than ever imagined


We've all heard it since we were kids. It's written on toothpaste boxes and tagged at the end of the commercials―See your dentist twice a year. If we allow the slogan to sink in at all, it probably makes us think about preventing cavities or, in the worst case, getting fillings. “Sure, I go twice a year for a cleaning,” people will say. But when asked exactly why that's important, many people would guess, “It keeps my teeth from turning yellow. And maybe something to do with my gums?”  

The truth is, that medicine is discovering things that make regular dental checkups more important than we might have thought. “We're learning more about something called the oral-systemic link,” says Jason Pratt, DDS, of Pratt Family Dentistry in Southern Pines. “Periodontal diseases are infections of the structures around the teeth, like the gums. They've been shown to cause inflammation in other parts of the body and seem to be linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory disease, hypertension, cancers, and possibly even Alzheimer’s.” Science doesn't yet know exactly how all these seemingly different problems are connected to the mouth, but research is underway to figure it out.

If periodontal disease is found early, like in a regular checkup, it can be treated by simply having the bacteria cleaned from the teeth and gums. In a more advanced form, it might require antibiotics or even surgery or grafting. Those latter options take longer, are more expensive, and—of course—are more painful. But left untreated, those seemingly unimportant mouth infections can have a devastating effect on general health.

There is, however, an even more compelling reason. Take the case of a young patient of Dr. Terry Anne Sams of Sandhills Weekend Dentistry. “She came to me upset because of a raised area on the side of her tongue. I tried to reassure her that it would be alright but, privately, I sensed something was terribly wrong. I referred her immediately to a specialist. She was reluctant to go.”

“I'm afraid I made a pest of myself. I kept calling her, trying to allay her concerns about the possibility of expensive treatment. Fortunately, we worked something out with the UNC Dental Clinic where she was diagnosed with oral cancer and treated with surgery. I ran into her months later. She was still healing, but able to speak, eat, work and care for her young daughter. It was fortunate for both of them it turned out that way.”

“Oral cancer is on the rise,” warns Dr. Paul Gauthier, who practices general dentistry in Southern Pines. “There's a tremendous push to locate and identify the reasons.”

 Dr. Gauthier had a close, personal experience with the tragedy than can come with cancer of the mouth. And, when he took over the dental practice he now runs, one of the staff members came to him crying. Sadly, but ironically, her husband was dying of oral cancer. All this helps explain why Dr. Gauthier has a special concern with diagnosing the different signs of the disease.

Oral cancer is particularly dangerous because in its early stages, it may not be noticed. Frequently it develops without producing pain or any recognizable symptoms. And oral cancers can have the insidious tendency to produce additional tumors.

One of the weapons modern dentistry has in its arsenal to fight back, is called a tissue autofluorescence blue light. As its name suggests, it's a light that your dentist can shine in your mouth. Any abnormalities take on a ghostly, glowing appearance. “The great majority of what's revealed by the light isn't cancerous,” says Dr. Gauthier. “But, from experience, I can tell which problems deserve to have a biopsy to test for cancerous cells. I've come across oral cancer only twice in the two and a half years I've been in my practice here. But fortunately, we found those early.”

“Something people don't realize that's especially dangerous about oral cancer,” says Dr. Sams, “is the damage that can be left to the patient even if the cancer is successfully treated. When you're dealing with the mouth and the jaw, removing cancer can be permanently disfiguring and leave a patient unable to speak or eat normally.”

Early detection is the best thing we can get for ourselves, and that depends on those semi-annual checkups. Sure, we all should brush and floss regularly. Keeping a nice smile is great. But we owe it to ourselves to protect our mouths, which turns out to be more important than we ever realized.

Featured Dentists

Dr. John F. Ceraso, DMD, has been practicing dentistry in Southern Pines since 2003 and according to his website, is one of the state's leading cosmetic and family dentists. His passion for the cosmetic aspect of dentistry, comes from the satisfaction he gets from the effect the treatment can have on the life of a patient.

“It changes lives,” he says. “I've seen even small procedures give people more confidence, not only in how they look, but in themselves. With something as simple as porcelain veneers, we can change the shape, size, and color of a patient’s teeth.”  

Dr. Ceraso also offers the popular Invisalign process of straightening teeth, a less noticeable alternative to metal braces.

One of the treatments Dr. Ceraso is enthusiastic about is called Teeth-in-A-Day. “Conventional dentures are a thing of the past,” he jokes, “like phone booths.” Using implants for a solid foundation gives the patient a full complement of teeth that is fixed (not removable). Imagine the end result that looks, feels and functions like your natural teeth. Truly life changing.

Dr. John F. Ceraso
Cosmetic & Implant Family Dentistry
125 Murray Hill Rd., Suite A
Southern Pines

When Jason Pratt married Ashley, a North Carolina native, he left the mountains of Utah and moved to Chapel Hill to attend dental school. Eventually, he found a gem of a practice on Broad Street in Southern Pines that had been established 45 years before by Dr. Barry Leslie. “I love that this building has been a dental practice for so long. It just needed a facelift and modern technology to make it my perfect place to work for the next
30 years.” 

“We want every patient to feel welcome in our practice,” he says. “And we want to help them overcome fears and improve their oral health.” Dr. Pratt is involved with several local dental study groups to help them do just that and often travels across the country to further his dental knowledge. “It might sound weird, but I still love to go to class.”

Dr. Pratt believes in a “Family” practice model for two reasons. “First,” he explains, “we treat people of all ages, and we treat them like family. Second, my wife, Ashley, is a dental hygienist, and Tiffiani, my sister-in-law, also works with us.” The Pratts have three girls, 6, 12, and 14, who are interested in medicine. “Just maybe,” he says, “one of them will go into dentistry.”

Dr. Jason T. Pratt
Pratt Family Dentistry
700 SW Broad Street, Southern Pines

It was golf that brought Dr. Skladany to the Pinehurst area back in 1982.  This was long before the DDS initials followed his name.  He worked as a golf assistant at Pinehurst Resort and later returned to set up his dental practice in 1996.  Dr. Skladany is a graduate of Baltimore College of Dental Surgery Dental School, University of Maryland.

In 1996 he returned to the Sandhills and established his family dental practice, Dental Design Innovations.  As a family practice, Dr. Skladany’s eight employees pride themselves on being caring, considerate, respectful and child-friendly.  They want their patients—and especially children to feel as if they are spending time with friends.  At times, a young patient may actually be upset when it is not his turn to see the dentist. 

Dr. Skladany excels with cosmetic dentistry where he offers natural-looking, high-quality, aesthetic ceramic restorations, completed and placed in a single visit.  Replacement options: bridges, partials, implant crowns, and dentures are also his specialty.  His sense of humor eases any dental anxiety you may experience. 

When he’s not wearing his dental scrubs, Dr. Skladany still plays golf or enjoys landscape design projects.  His exterior landscaping and interior office design at 10 Memorial Drive, Pinehurst, are great examples of his artistic talent.  Many patients regard Dr. Skladany’s office as an eclectic art gallery.

Dr. Joseph Skladany
Dental Design Innovations
10 Memorial Dr., Pinehurst

The professional path taken by Dr. Terry Anne Sams, DMD, may be a little different but one that's been an immense advantage to her practice. She has worked both as a dental assistant and a dental hygienist. That's given her personal insight into the many sides of treating patients.

“At one time, I was thinking about becoming a surgeon like my stepfather,” she says. “But he told me, 'Terry Anne, you like to spend time with your patients. Surgeons can't do that but, as a dentist, you can.' He was right. It's something I love about being a dentist.”

Dr. Sams has two sons, John Charles, 17, and McGowan, 15. She loves the Scouting they are involved in and has spent ten years as an adult patrol leader in local Troop 7.

Dr. Terry, as many of her patients call her, is the type of person who joyfully embraces much of what life offers her. She is a handbell ringer, a shag dancer and is planning on taking flying lessons. Some of her patients, noting how she often has a song on her lips, call her 'the singing dentist.'

Dr. Terry Anne Sams
Sandhills Weekend Dental
200 Westgate Drive, Suite C, West End

To those in the field of healthcare innovation, Dr. Paul Gauthier, DDS, is perhaps best known for his pioneering work in the use of laser technology as used in cosmetic and surgical dental procedures. He is a founding member of the World Clinical Laser Institute and, as such, his former practice in Fredrick, MD became an important training facility, teaching other dentists how to incorporate laser procedures into their treatments.

Since the age of 15 Dr. Gauthier had been vacationing in Pinehurst with his parents. After graduating from Loma Linda University School of Dentistry and marrying, he began bringing his wife with him here as well. “From all those years of playing golf, I developed a true warmth for the area. One time when we were here on vacation, our flight home was delayed. We had time on our hands, and we found ourselves looking at information on local real estate. We wound up buying a house.”

After moving here permanently and buying an existing successful practice, Dr. Gauthier opened up his own practice in Southern Pines in June of 2016. 

Dr. Gauthier provides general dentistry but has a special interest in the detection of oral cancers. 

Dr. Paul E. Gauthier
Southern Pines Family Dental
655 SW Broad St.
Southern Pines

Dr. Mark Griffies grew up as an “Air Force brat,” so it was natural he would serve his country. After graduating from Notre Dame and the prestigious Baylor College of Dentistry, Dr. Griffies practiced dentistry and orthodontics in the Army for more than 22 years. There he served as the Orthodontic Consultant to the Army Surgeon General.

After retiring from the military in 2005, Dr. Griffies and his wife opened an orthodontic practice in Raeford. Seven years later, they expanded and opened an office in Seven Lakes. Later this spring, they will move that office just down the street to a larger space.

“I need to give a lot of credit to my wife, Janice. She's been more than just my office manager. She's been responsible for finding our locations, remodeling, decorating and handling the day-to-day responsibilities.” The Griffies' have been married for 37 years. 

An injury incurred while water skiing hasn't seemed to keep Dr. Griffies down. “I love to be outdoors,” he says. “Especially on the water.” He and his wife travel often, not to any exotic locations, but to Indiana to visit their daughter and grandchildren.

Dr. John Mark Griffies
Seven Lakes Orthodontics
1064 Seven Lakes Dr., West End

Straighten-Up Orthodontics
301 Birch St., Raeford

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