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.”
Braces are a common experience among teens and pre-teens. And although the treatment can be a major financial undertaking, more and more families pursue it to help their child attain a straighter, more attractive smile.
But orthodontics isn’t first and foremost a cosmetic treatment. Although an improved appearance is a benefit, the main reason for treatment is therapeutic—it can improve your child’s current and future dental health.
The teeth’s relationship to the jaws and gums makes moving them possible. Rather than simply being fixed within their jawbone socket, teeth are actually held in place by a strong, elastic tissue called the periodontal ligament. The ligament lies between the teeth and jawbone and attaches to both with tiny extending fibers. This attachment secures the teeth in place.
But the ligament also has a dynamic quality—it can reshape itself when necessary and allow teeth to move gradually into new positions. This is most necessary during the early years of mouth and jaw development, but it can also occur throughout life. Orthodontics takes advantage of this mechanism by applying precise pressure to the teeth in the direction of desired movement. The periodontal ligament does the rest by reshaping and allowing the teeth to move in response to this pressure.
The result is straighter teeth and a more normal bite. With the teeth now where they should be, it’s also easier to clean them of disease-causing dental plaque, whereas misaligned teeth are more prone to plaque accumulation that can be difficult to remove. And because the whole mouth including teeth are involved when we talk, teeth positioned in a more normal bite will improve speech.
Orthodontics is a long-term process, often encompassing more than the actual time wearing braces. Both orthodontists and pediatric dentists recommend a bite evaluation by an orthodontist around the age of 6. If it does appear an abnormal bite is forming, it may be possible to intervene and stop or at least slow the development. This could have a more positive impact on any future treatment.
Braces and other treatments can make a difference in your child’s self-image and social relationships. But the main beneficiary will be their dental health.
If you would like more information on orthodontic 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 “Moving Teeth With Orthodontics.”
If we could go back in time, we all probably have a few things we wish we could change. Recently, Dr. Travis Stork, emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors, shared one of his do-over dreams with Dear Doctor magazine: “If I [could have] gone back and told myself as a teenager what to do, I would have worn a mouthguard, not only to protect my teeth but also to help potentially reduce risk of concussion.”
What prompted this wish? The fact that as a teenage basketball player, Stork received an elbow to the mouth that caused his two front teeth to be knocked out of place. The teeth were put back in position, but they soon became darker and began to hurt. Eventually, both were successfully restored with dental crowns. Still, it was a painful (and costly) injury — and one that could have been avoided.
You might not realize it, but when it comes to dental injuries, basketball ranks among the riskier sports. Yet it’s far from the only one. In fact, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), there are some two dozen others — including baseball, hockey, surfing and bicycling — that carry a heightened risk of dental injury. Whenever you’re playing those sports, the ADA recommends you wear a high-quality mouth guard.
Mouthguards have come a long way since they were introduced as protective equipment for boxers in the early 1900’s. Today, three different types are widely available: stock “off-the-shelf” types that come in just a few sizes; mouth-formed “boil-and-bite” types that you adapt to the general contours of your mouth; and custom-made high-quality mouthguards that are made just for you at the dental office.
Of all three types, the dentist-made mouthguards are consistently found to be the most comfortable and best-fitting, and the ones that offer your teeth the greatest protection. What’s more, recent studies suggest that custom-fabricated mouthguards can provide an additional defense against concussion — in fact, they are twice as effective as the other types. That’s why you’ll see more and more professional athletes (and plenty of amateurs as well) sporting custom-made mouthguards at games and practices.
“I would have saved myself a lot of dental heartache if I had worn a mouthguard,” noted Dr. Stork. So take his advice: Wear a mouthguard whenever you play sports — unless you’d like to meet him (or one of his medical colleagues) in a professional capacity…
When you awake in the morning do you still feel exhausted? Are you irritable during the day, unable to think or focus clearly? Is your loud snoring bothering your bed partner?
If you answered affirmatively to any of these questions, you may have sleep apnea. This happens when an obstruction (usually the tongue) blocks the airway during sleep, preventing you from breathing. Your brain notices the drop in oxygen and wakes you to re-open the airway. The arousal lasts only a few seconds, and you may not even notice. But because it can happen many times a night, these waking episodes can rob you of the deep sleep your body needs.
Sleep apnea is more serious than simply waking up grumpy. Over time, it could contribute to dangerous health conditions like high blood pressure or heart disease. If you’re noticing any of these signs, it’s important then that you undergo a complete examination by a physician or dentist trained in sleep-related issues.
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce sleep apnea. One of the most common is continuous airway pressure (CPAP): This method uses a small pump that pushes pressurized air through a face mask worn while the patient sleeps. The forced air keeps the airway open and reduces apnea episodes.
While it’s an effective method, it can be uncomfortable and cumbersome to use—some people can’t tolerate wearing the mask while they sleep. But if your sleep apnea symptoms are mild to moderate, your dentist may be able to provide an alternative therapy with a specially designed oral appliance.
Similar to a mouthguard or retainer, a sleep apnea appliance worn during sleep holds the lower jaw forward, which helps move the tongue away from the airway. It’s much less cumbersome (and noisy) than a CPAP machine. And your dentist can custom design and fabricate your appliance for a comfortable fit.
Not all cases of sleep apnea can benefit from such an appliance, or even from CPAP therapy. Extreme cases could require surgery to remove tissues blocking the airway. But most sleep apnea patients don’t require this invasive intervention. Getting checked by a qualified medical professional could open the door to a more convenient and effective way to a better night’s sleep.
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.”
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