While the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation have contributed to rising cancer survival rates, they can still have an adverse effect on the rest of the body. That includes the mouth: these treatments can damage healthy tissues like the salivary glands. The decrease in saliva flow increases the risk of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
While overcoming cancer is certainly the patient’s main health priority, it’s important for them to tend to their oral health. The best approach often involves a three-way partnership between patient, dentist and family caregivers all doing their part to keep the patient’s teeth, gums and mouth healthy during cancer treatment.
Here’s what each “partner” can do to protect a cancer patient’s oral health during treatment.
The dentist. To minimize dental disease odds, patients should enter cancer treatment with their teeth and gums in the best shape possible. Before beginning treatment, then, the dentist can assess their oral health status and recommend a treatment plan for any existing disease or condition. The dentist can also monitor a patient’s oral health during the treatment period.
The patient. Patients can do the most to protect their oral health by removing disease-causing plaque buildup with daily brushing and flossing, as well as maintaining their regular schedule of dental cleanings (if possible). They should also attempt to reduce dry mouth, a potential consequence of cancer treatment, by consuming more water and using saliva boosters like Xylitol-sweetened gums and mints. A nutritious diet is also important for protecting oral health.
The caregiver. Many cancer patients depend on family or friends to aid them during treatment. One of the best things a caregiver can do is act as a liaison between the patient and their medical and dental providers. When it comes to oral health, caregivers should be on the alert for any mouth changes including tooth pain, gum swelling or bleeding, foul breath and other signs of disease.
Focusing on oral health can be a daunting challenge for patients during their fight with cancer. But with help from their other partners, they can come out of this fight with their teeth, gums and mouth in good health.
If you would like more information on oral care during cancer treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Health During Cancer Treatment.”
Calling someone "long in the tooth" is an unflattering way of saying they're getting old. The phrase refers to the effects of gum recession, in which the gums pull away from the teeth and cause them to appear longer. The problem, which makes the teeth vulnerable to disease as well as look unattractive, is a common problem for older people.
The most common cause for gum recession is periodontal (gum) disease. Bacteria and food particles, which make up dental plaque, trigger an infection. The deposits of plaque and calculus (hardened plaque) continue to fuel the infection as it continues to weaken gum tissue attachments.
As a result, the gums begin to lose their attachment to the teeth and pull away, exposing the root areas normally covered by the gums. Unlike the enamel-protected crowns (the parts of teeth you can see), the root is covered by a thin layer of material called cementum.
Although cementum offers less protection than enamel, this normally isn't a problem because the gums also act as a barrier against bacteria and other harsh aspects of the mouth environment. But without gum coverage, the root area becomes vulnerable to disease and is more prone to painful sensitivity.
Because gum disease is the main culprit, you can reduce your chances of gum recession by keeping your teeth clean of plaque through brushing and flossing, and regularly undergoing professional cleanings. If gum disease does occur, it's important to seek treatment as soon as possible: The earlier it's treated the more likely that any recessed gum tissues can regenerate.
If the recession is extensive, however, you may need clinical intervention to assist with its regrowth. This can be done by grafting tissue at the site that then serves as scaffold for new tissue to grow upon. Though effective, these microsurgical techniques are quite complex and involved.
So, if you suspect you have gum disease or recession, see your dentist as soon as possible for a full examination. It may be possible to restore your gums and enhance your smile.
If you would like more information on protecting your gum health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Gum Recession.”
Ever since childhood, when her career as a model and actress took off, Brooke Shields has enjoyed worldwide recognition — through advertisements for designer jeans, appearances on The Muppet Show, and starring roles in big-screen films. But not long ago, that familiar face was spotted in an unusual place: wearing a nasal anesthesia mask at the dentist's office. In fact, Shields posted the photo to her own Instagram account, with the caption “More dental surgery! I grind my teeth!” And judging by the number of comments the post received, she's far from alone.
In fact, researchers estimate that around one in ten adults have dental issues that stem from teeth grinding, which is also called bruxism. (Many children also grind their teeth, but it rarely causes serious problems, and is often outgrown.) About half of the people who are teeth grinders report problems like persistent headaches, jaw tenderness and sore teeth. Bruxism may also result in excessive tooth wear, and may damage dental work like crowns and bridges; in severe cases, loosened or fractured teeth have been reported.
Researchers have been studying teeth grinding for many years; their findings seem to indicate that it has no single cause. However, there are a number of factors that play a significant role in this condition. One is the anatomy of the jaw itself, and the effect of worn or misaligned teeth on the bite. Another factor relates to changes in brain activity that occur during the sleep cycle. In fact, nocturnal (nighttime) bruxism is now classified as a sleep-related movement disorder. Still other factors, such as the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and a high level of stress or anxiety, can make an individual more likely to experience bruxism.
What can be done for people whose teeth grinding is causing problems? Since this condition may have many causes, a number of different treatments are available. Successful management of bruxism often begins by striving to eliminate the factors that may cause problems — for example, making lifestyle changes to improve your health, creating a soothing nighttime environment, and trying stress-reduction techniques; these may include anything from warm baths and soft music at bedtime, to meditation and mindfulness exercises.
Several dental treatments are also available, including a custom-made occlusal guard (night guard) that can keep your teeth from being damaged by grinding. In some cases, a bite adjustment may also be recommended: In this procedure, a small amount of enamel is removed from a tooth to change the way it contacts the opposite tooth, thereby lessening the biting force on it. More invasive techniques (such as surgery) are rarely needed.
A little tooth grinding once in a while can be a normal response to stress; in fact, becoming aware of the condition is often the first step to controlling it. But if you begin to notice issues that could stem from bruxism — or if the loud grinding sounds cause problems for your sleeping partner — it may be time to contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more about bruxism in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Stress and Tooth Habits.”
Here's an alarming statistic: Nearly half of adults over 30—and 70% over 65—are affected by periodontal (gum) disease. It's sobering because if not caught and treated early, gum disease can lead to not only tooth loss but also an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
Gum disease most often begins with dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that builds up on tooth surfaces mainly from poor oral hygiene. Undisturbed plaque can become a breeding ground for bacteria that cause gum infections.
Daily brushing and flossing can remove most of this plaque buildup, but you also need to get professional dental cleanings at least twice a year. This is because any plaque you missed brushing and flossing can interact with saliva and harden into calculus or tartar. This hardened plaque can't be dislodged through brushing and flossing alone, but requires special instruments used by dental professionals to remove it.
You should also be aware of other risk factors you may have that increase your chances of gum disease and take action to minimize them. For instance, you may have a higher genetic propensity toward gum disease. If so, you'll need to be extra-vigilant with personal hygiene and watch for any signs of disease.
Tobacco use, especially smoking, can double your chances of gum disease as well as make it difficult to notice any signs of disease because your gums will not bleed or swell. Quitting the habit can vastly improve your odds of avoiding an infection. Your disease risk could also be high if you have a diet heavy in sugar, which feeds bacteria. Avoiding sugary foods and eating a more dental-friendly diet can lower your disease risk.
Oral hygiene and managing any other risk factors can greatly reduce your risk for gum disease, but it won't eliminate it entirely. So, be sure you seek professional dental care at the first signs of swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. The sooner you undergo treatment for a possible gum infection, the better your chances of avoiding extensive damage to your teeth, gums and supporting bone.
The risk for gum disease goes up as we get older. But by following good hygiene and lifestyle practices, you can put yourself on the healthier side of the statistics.
If you would like more information on gum disease care and treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Gum Disease Gets Started.”
Years ago, disease or trauma robbed you of one of your teeth. At the time you might have opted for an affordable solution, like a partial denture. But now you'd like to restore that missing tooth with a dental implant, the most life-like tooth replacement available.
That's a great decision. But there may be a hiccup along the way to your new implant: the state of the underlying jawbone. Implants need a certain amount of bone for proper placement. If not enough is present, that may cause an interruption in your plans—and that could be a real possibility if your tooth has been missing for some time.
That's because, like other living tissues, bone has a growth cycle: Old bone cells die and dissolve, while new cells form to take their place. In the jaw, the force produced by teeth during chewing helps to keep this growth process in the bone functioning at a healthy pace.
When a tooth goes missing, though, so does this chewing stimulation. A lack of stimulation can slow the growth rate for that part of the bone and its volume can diminish over time. It's possible for a quarter of the bone volume to be lost within the first year after losing a tooth.
If you've experienced that level of bone loss, we may not be able to place an implant—yet. You might still have a few options. For one, we could attempt to regenerate some of the bone through grafting. Bone material grafted into the affected area can serve as a scaffold for new bone cells to form and adhere. Over time, this could result in a sufficient amount of regenerated bone to support a dental implant.
Another possibility might be to install a smaller diameter implant like those used to support removable dentures. Because they're smaller they require less bone than standard-sized implants. They're not for every situation, though, and are best suited for situations where aesthetics isn't a priority.
To know what your options are regarding an implant-based restoration, you'll need to undergo a thorough evaluation of your oral health, including supporting bone. Depending on your situation, you may still be able to renew your smile with this premier tooth replacement option.
If you would like more information on dental implants, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dental Implants After Previous Tooth Loss.”
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