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.”
Although adults are more prone to dental disease, children aren't immune from one particular infection, tooth decay. Some children, in fact, are at higher risk for an aggressive form called early childhood caries (ECC).
There are a number of things you can do to help your child avoid this destructive disease, especially daily brushing and flossing to remove bacterial dental plaque, the underlying cause for tooth decay. It's also important for your child to see a dentist regularly for professional dental cleanings and checkups.
But some of their teeth, particularly the back molars, may need some extra attention to fully protect them against decay. This is because larger teeth like molars have numerous pits and crevices along their biting surfaces that can accumulate dental plaque difficult to remove by brushing alone. The added plaque increases the presence of bacteria around the tooth, which increases the risk of decay.
To minimize this possibility, dentists can apply a dental sealant to "smooth out" those pits and crevices in the molars and make it more difficult for plaque to accumulate. This is a quick and painless procedure in which a dentist brushes a liquid plastic resin or similar material onto the teeth's biting surfaces. They then apply a curing light to harden it into a durable coating.
About one-third of children—mostly those considered at higher risk for tooth decay—have undergone sealant treatment. But the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend this preventive measure for all children between ages 5 and 7, and then later between 11 and 14 when additional molars come in. Although there is a moderate cost per tooth for sealant application, it's much less than the potential expense of treating an infected tooth.
Combined with daily oral hygiene and other preventive measures, sealants can reduce the chances of damaging tooth decay. Keeping your child's teeth healthy is an important part in maintaining their dental health today—and tomorrow.
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.”
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.”
With summer winding down, parents are turning their attention to their kids' upcoming school year. August is often a busy time for families rushing to buy school supplies and fresh sets of clothes and shoes. Although hectic, these last few weeks before school starts are also ideal for focusing on dental health.
As you prepare for the school year, be sure to include these dental health items on your to-do list.
Make a dental appointment. Start the school year off right with a dental cleaning and checkup. Along with daily hygiene, dental visits are key to disease prevention and optimal oral health. Make those appointments early, though: Most dentists report an upsurge in patient visits this time of year.
And if you haven't already, set up an orthodontic evaluation: Having an orthodontist examine your child around age 6 could uncover an emerging bite problem. Early intervention might prevent the need for more costly future orthodontic treatments.
Plan for healthy school snacking. While kids are home on summer break, it's probably easier to keep an eye on the quality of their snacks. But being away from your watchful gaze at school means your children may encounter snacks that are not quite up to your tooth-healthy standards.
Even though schools adhere to federal nutrition standards for food provided on school property, many dentists don't believe they go far enough. Your kids' classmates can also be a source of unhealthy snack choices, so plan ahead to provide your kids an array of snacks to carry to school that they like and that support healthy teeth and a healthy body.
Get a custom mouthguard for your student athlete. If your child is going to play football, basketball or some other contact sport, make sure they have dental protection. A hard impact to the face can cause significant dental damage that's costly to treat, but a mouthguard worn during play can protect the teeth and gums by cushioning the blow.
You can purchase retail mouthguards at your local sporting goods store. Your best option, though, is a mouthguard custom-made by your dentist based on your child's individual mouth measurements. Although more expensive, custom mouthguards offer superior protection, and they're more comfortable to wear.
When the school bell rings, you want your kids as prepared as possible. Make sure their teeth and gums are ready too. If you would like more information about best practices for your child's dental care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Snacking at School” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
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