Although cancer treatment has advanced steadily in recent decades, the most used therapies continue to be radiation and chemotherapy to eradicate cancerous cells. And while they often work, both can cause "collateral damage" in healthy tissues near the targeted cells.
This can create a number of indirect consequences for a patient's health, including in the mouth. The salivary glands, for example, can be damaged by radiation treatments aimed at the head or neck. The effect on these glands can interrupt the normal flow of saliva and cause xerostomia or "dry mouth."
Lack of adequate saliva causes more than an unpleasant, sticky mouth feeling. One of saliva's main functions is to neutralize acid that builds up naturally after eating. Without it, high acid levels can cause enamel and root surface erosion and lead to tooth decay.
Cancer treatment can also contribute to gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD). This disease causes stomach acid to bypass the natural tissue barriers of the esophagus and enter the mouth. As with dry mouth, the increased acid level from GERD can be just as devastating to enamel—and the damage will be permanent.
To minimize these effects on your dental health, it's important to take proactive steps before, during and after cancer treatment. If at all possible, have any needed dental work performed before you begin radiation or chemotherapy—it's better to start it with teeth and gums as healthy as possible.
During treatment, try to continue regular dental visits to monitor your oral health and receive any needed preventive or therapeutic treatments. Depending on your condition and the advice of your dentist, you may need to increase your visit frequency during this time. Your dentist can help with boosting your saliva production and strengthening your tooth enamel. But you should also practice daily brushing and flossing, drink plenty of water and seek treatment for any resulting GERD symptoms.
Even with the best efforts, though, your teeth and gums may still incur damage while treating your cancer. Fortunately, there are a wide array of materials and procedures that can effectively restore them to health. So, once your treatments are completed consult with a dentist on your options for improving the health and appearance of your teeth and gums.
Even with modern prevention and treatment advances, losing teeth in later life is still a sad but common part of human experience. Just as generations have before, many today rely on dentures to regain their lost dental function and smile.
But although effective, dentures have their weaknesses. The most serious: they can't prevent jawbone deterioration, a common problem associated with tooth loss.
Bone health depends on chewing forces applied to the teeth to stimulate replacement growth for older bone cells. When teeth are gone, so is this stimulation. Dentures can't replicate the stimulus and may even accelerate bone loss because they can irritate the bone under the gums as they rest upon them for support.
But there's a recent advance in denture technology that may help slow or even stop potential bone loss. The advance incorporates implants with dentures to create two hybrid alternatives that may be more secure and healthier for the supporting bone.
The first is known as an overdenture, a removable appliance similar to a traditional denture. But instead of deriving its support from the gums alone, the overdenture attaches to three to four implants (or only two, if on the lower jaw) that have been permanently set into the jawbone. This not only increases stability, but the implants made of bone-friendly titanium attract and foster increased bone growth around them. This can help slow or even stop the cycle of bone loss with missing teeth.
The second type is a fixed denture. In this version, four to six implants are implanted around the jaw arch. The denture is then secured in place to these implants with screws. It's a little more secure than the overdenture, but it's also more expensive and requires good quality bone at the implant sites.
If you've already experienced significant bone loss you may first need bone grafting to build up the implant sites for these options, or choose traditional dentures instead. But if you're a good candidate for an implant-supported denture, you may find it provides better support and less risk of continuing bone loss than traditional dentures.
If you would like more information on implant-supported dental restorations, 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 “Overdentures & Fixed Dentures.”
Academy Award-winning actress Kathy Bates knows how important it is to present your best face to the world — and one of the most important features of that face is a beaming smile. But there came a point when she noticed something was a little off. “I've always had good teeth, but it seemed to me as I was getting older that they weren't looking as good,” Kathy explained in a recent interview with Dear Doctor magazine.
That's when she decided it was time to take action. Kathy had orthodontic treatment when she was in her fifties, and she keeps her smile bright with tooth whitening treatments. She uses a kit provided by her dentist with a safe, effective whitening solution.
Of course, a bright, healthy smile looks great anywhere — whether you're on the red carpet or “off the grid.” And you don't have to be a Hollywood star to have professional whitening treatments. In fact, teeth whitening is one of the most popular and affordable cosmetic treatments modern dentistry offers.
The basic options for professional teeth whitening include in-office bleaching or take-home kits. Both types of dentist-supervised treatments offer a safe and effective means of getting a brighter smile; the main difference is how long they take to produce results. A single one-hour treatment in the office can make your teeth up to ten shades lighter — a big difference! To get that same lightening with at-home trays, it would take several days. On the plus side, the take-home kit is less expensive, and can achieve the same results in a bit more time.
It's important to note that not all teeth can be whitened with these treatments. Some teeth have intrinsic (internal) stains that aren't affected by external agents like bleaches. Also, teeth that have been restored (with bonding or veneers, for example) generally won't change color. And you can't necessarily whiten your teeth to any degree: Every tooth has a maximum whiteness, and adding more bleach won't lighten it beyond that level. Most people, however, find that teeth whitening treatments produce noticeable and pleasing results.
What about those off-the-shelf kits or in-the-mall kiosks? They might work… or they might not. But one thing's for sure: Without a dentist's supervision, you're on your own. That's the main reason why you should go with a pro if you're considering teeth whitening. We not only ensure that your treatment is safe — we can also give you a realistic idea of what results to expect, and we will make sure that other dental problems aren't keeping you from having a great-looking smile.
How often does Kathy Bates see her dentist for a checkup and cleaning? “I go about every four months,” she noted. “I'm pretty careful about it.” And if you've seen her smile, you can tell that it pays off. If you would like more information about teeth whitening, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Important Teeth Whitening Questions Answered” and “Teeth Whitening.”
"Mom, my tooth hurts" isn't something you look forward to hearing your child say. But tooth pain is as common as other childhood ailments, so you may have to face it. Here are a few simple steps to make it easier.
First, ask your child where in the mouth it hurts and, if they can, tell you how long it's been hurting. Children's memories aren't always accurate, but you can still get a general idea that you can communicate with your dentist if you take them in.
Next, look in their mouth for anything out of the ordinary: gum swelling or bleeding, or dark spots on the teeth indicative of tooth decay. Look also for hard food particles like popcorn kernels caught between the teeth, which could be causing the pain. Gently floss between the teeth (even if you can't see anything) to remove any caught particles.
You'll also want to help ease their pain. You can apply an ice pack against the painful side of the jaw. Don't place ice directly on the skin, but use a container or cloth alternately against the jaw for a minute or so, and then away for a minute. You can also give them a dose of mild pain reliever like ibuprofen or acetaminophen appropriate for their age and weight—but never rub aspirin or other pain relievers on the gums, which tend to be acidic and can burn the skin.
Finally, you'll need to decide if you need to see a dentist and how soon. It might not be necessary with situations like the trapped food particles, but most of the time it's wise to have your dentist perform an examination for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. As to how soon, try to see the dentist immediately if the pain has continued from one day to the next or has kept your child up overnight. Otherwise, book an appointment for as soon as the dentist advises, even if the pain subsides.
A toothache at any age is never pleasant, but especially for children. Knowing these steps will help ease their discomfort and get them the relief and treatment they need.
If you would like more information on dental care for children, 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 “A Child's Toothache: Have a Dental Exam to Figure out the Real Cause.”
Although not high on the glamour scale, saliva is nonetheless an important ingredient in a healthy life. This "multi-tasker" fluid helps break down your food for better digestion and supplies antibodies to thwart threatening microorganisms coming in through the mouth.
But perhaps its most important role is to neutralize mouth acid that can erode tooth enamel. Without this buffering action, you're at much greater risk for tooth decay and possible tooth loss.
That's why chronic dry mouth is much more than just an unpleasant feeling. If you're not producing enough saliva, your risk for developing tooth decay (and periodontal disease too) skyrocket.
Here are 3 things you can do to avoid dry mouth and promote healthier saliva flow.
Watch what goes in your mouth. Some foods, beverages and other substances can interfere with saliva production. Caffeine in coffee, sodas and other beverages can cause your body to lose water needed to produce adequate saliva. So can alcohol, which can also further irritate dry tissues. And any type of tobacco use can decrease saliva production and heighten the dry mouth effect, another good reason to kick the habit.
Drink more water. Water is the main ingredient in saliva, so keeping yourself hydrated throughout the day helps ensure a ready supply. Drinking water also helps dilute acid concentrations and washes away leftover food particles that could become a food source for oral bacteria, the main source for mouth acid.
Ask questions about your medications. Many medications can trigger chronic dry mouth including drugs to treat cancer, high blood pressure, depression or allergies. If you have chronic dry mouth, talk with your physician about the medications you're taking and ask if there are any alternatives that have less of an effect. If not, drink more water, especially while taking oral medication.
You can also reduce dry mouth symptoms by using a humidifier while you sleep or using products that boost saliva production. And be sure you're brushing and flossing daily to further reduce your risk of dental disease. Managing dry mouth won't just make your mouth feel better—it will help your teeth and gums stay healthier too.
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