Despite momentous strides in recent years in the fight against cancer, treatments can still disrupt normal life. Both radiation and chemotherapy have side effects that can cause problems in other areas of health—particularly the teeth and gums.
If you or a loved one are undergoing cancer treatment, it's important to get ahead of any potential side effects it may have on dental health. Here are 4 things that can help protect teeth and gums while undergoing cancer treatment.
Get a preliminary dental exam. Before beginning treatment, patients should have their dentist examine their teeth and gums to establish a baseline for current dental health and to treat any problems that may already exist. However, patients should only undergo dental procedures in which the recovery time can be completed before starting radiation or chemotherapy.
Be meticulous about oral hygiene. Undergoing cancer treatment can increase the risks for developing tooth decay or gum disease. That's why it's important that patients thoroughly brush and floss everyday to reduce bacterial plaque buildup that causes disease. Patients should also reduce sugar in their diets, a prime food source for bacteria, and eat “teeth-friendly” foods filled with minerals like calcium and phosphorous to keep teeth strong.
Keep up regular dental visits. The physical toll that results from cancer treatment often makes it difficult to carry on routine activities. Even so, patients should try to keep up regular dental visits during their treatment. Besides the extra disease prevention offered by dental cleanings, the dentist can also monitor for any changes in oral health and provide treatment if appropriate.
Minimize dry mouth. Undergoing cancer treatment can interfere with saliva production and flow. This can lead to chronic dry mouth and, without the full protection of saliva against dental disease, could increase the risk of tooth decay or gum disease. Patients can minimize dry mouth by drinking more water, using saliva boosters and discussing medication alternatives with their doctor.
It may not be possible to fully avoid harm to your oral health during cancer treatment, and some form of dental restoration may be necessary later. But following these guidelines could minimize the damage and make it easier to regain your dental health afterward.
If you would like more information on dental 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.”
Before implants, people often turned to a removable appliance to replace multiple missing teeth. Known as a removable partial denture (RPD), this appliance could restore both appearance and function at an affordable price.
But although implants may have diminished their use, RPDs haven't gone extinct. They're still a viable option for patients who can't afford implants or fixed bridgework, or who can't obtain implants due to the state of their dental health.
Although replacing only a few teeth rather than an entire arch, RPDs are similar in basic concept to full dentures. The prosthetic (artificial) teeth are anchored in a resin or plastic that's colored to resemble the gums, precisely placed to fit into the missing gaps. This assembly is further supported by a frame made of vitallium, a lightweight but strong metal alloy. The appliance fits upon the arch with the missing teeth, supported by vitallium clasps that grip adjacent natural teeth.
Each RPD must be custom designed for each patient to fit perfectly without excessive movement during chewing. Too much movement could warp the fit, reduce the RPD's durability or damage other teeth. To achieve this secure fit, dentists must take into account the number and location of missing teeth to be replaced, and then apply a specific construction pattern to balance the appliance.
There are RPDs that are meant to be used short-term, as with a teenager whose jaw isn't yet mature for dental implants. But the metal-framed RPDs we've described are designed for long-term use. There is, however, one primary downside: RPDs have a propensity to collect dental plaque, a thin biofilm most responsible for dental disease that could further deteriorate your dental health.
To avoid this, you'll need to keep both the RPD and the rest of your teeth and gums as clean as possible with daily brushing and flossing, and appliance care. And like dentures, it's best to remove the RPD when you go to bed at night to discourage the growth of harmful bacteria.
To see if an RPD to replace your missing teeth is an option for you, visit us for a complete dental exam. From there, we can advise you further as to whether an RPD could affordably restore your missing teeth and your smile.
If you would like more information on RPDs, 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 “Removable Partial Dentures.”
Tara Lipinski loves to smile. And for good reason: The Olympic-gold medalist has enjoyed a spectacular career in ladies' figure skating. Besides also winning gold in the U.S. Nationals and the Grand Prix Final, in 1997 Lipinski became the youngest skater ever to win a World Figure Skating title. Now a sports commentator and television producer, Lipinski still loves to show her smile—and counts it as one of her most important assets. She also knows the importance of protecting her smile with daily hygiene habits and regular dental care.
Our teeth endure a lot over our lifetime. Tough as they are, though, they're still vulnerable to disease, trauma and the effects of aging. To protect them, it's essential that we brush and floss every day to remove bacterial plaque—that thin accumulating film on teeth most responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.
To keep her smile in top shape and reduce her chances of dental disease, Lipinski flosses and brushes daily, the latter at least twice a day. She also uses a tongue scraper, a small handheld device about the size of a toothbrush, to remove odor-causing bacteria and debris from the tongue.
Lipinski is also diligent about visiting the dentist for professional cleanings and checkups at least twice a year because even a dedicated brusher and flosser like her can still miss dental plaque that can then harden into tartar. Dental hygienists have the training and tools to clear away any lingering plaque and tartar that could increase your disease risk. It's also a good time for the dentist to check your teeth and gums for any developing problems.
The high pressure world of competitive figure skating and now her media career may also have contributed to another threat to Lipinski's smile: a teeth-grinding habit. Teeth grinding is the unconscious action—often while asleep—of clenching the jaws together and producing abnormally high biting forces. Often a result of chronic stress, teeth grinding can accelerate tooth wear and damage the gum ligaments attached to teeth. To help minimize these effects, Lipinski's dentist created a custom mouthguard to wear at night. The slick plastic surface of the guard prevents the teeth from generating any damaging biting forces when they clench together.
The importance of an attractive smile isn't unique to celebrities and media stars like Tara Lipinski. A great smile breeds confidence for anyone—and it can enhance your career, family and social relationships. Protect this invaluable asset with daily oral hygiene, regular dental visits and prompt treatment for disease or trauma.
Brushing and flossing daily, and dental visits at least twice a year: These are the essential things you should be doing to protect your teeth and gums against dental disease. But you're also getting an automatic assist from your body through saliva, that humble fluid swishing around in your mouth, to protect your oral health.
It's more than simply “mouth water”: Without saliva and its various components, your risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease would be much higher. Here are 4 ways saliva helps you keep your teeth and gums healthy.
Cleansing. Chewing prepares your food for digestion, but in the process produces tiny particles of food debris. Settling on tooth surfaces, these bits become part of the dental plaque that forms on your teeth and develops the ideal breeding ground for disease-causing bacteria. Saliva helps rinse away much of this debris—particularly sugar, the primary food source for bacteria.
Protection. Saliva is the first line defense against disease-causing microorganisms entering the mouth. The primary source of this protection is a protein-based antibody called Immunoglobulin A (IgA), which directly fights infection-causing organisms. Another protein in saliva, lactoferrin (also found in tears), interferes with bacterial growth.
Buffering. The main enemy of tooth enamel is mouth acid, produced by oral bacteria and the foods that we eat. Saliva neutralizes acid to help the mouth maintain its normally neutral pH range. And it works fast: Saliva can buffer acid and restore balance within thirty minutes to an hour after eating.
Re-mineralization. It's normal for acid to build up after eating, and for it to quickly remove minerals from surface enamel, a process called de-mineralization that can soften and weaken the enamel. But saliva helps restore some of these lost minerals as it's neutralizing acid. This re-mineralization re-strengthens enamel against tooth decay.
Saliva is so important for maintaining a healthy mouth, it's worth your efforts to protect it. Diminished saliva production not only produces an unpleasant dry mouth, it may increase your risk for disease. If this is a constant problem, speak to your dentist about causes and remedies. You'll be doing your teeth and gums a favor.
If you would like more information on the role of saliva in maintaining oral 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 “Saliva: How it is Used to Diagnose Disease.”
Little things add up. Like your three meals a day, which could total over 87,000 by the time you're eighty. If you average a full night's sleep every night, you will have whiled away over a quarter of a million hours in slumber by your diamond birthday. And if you're the typical American, you will also have spent over 900 hours (or nearly 40 days) brushing your teeth.
If that last example sounds like a lot, it's actually not: If it's a daily habit, that's about two minutes of brushing a day. But that little bit of time could have an incredible impact on your dental health over a lifetime. That's why dental providers commemorate October as National Dental Hygiene Month to call attention to just how important those 900-plus hours can be to a healthy mouth.
Brushing is important because of what a few strains of bacteria can do to your oral health. While most of your mouth's microscopic inhabitants do no harm (and some are even beneficial), the malevolent few cause tooth decay and gum disease, both of which could lead to tooth loss.
These bacteria live in and feed off of a thin biofilm of food particles called dental plaque. Over time, plaque and tartar (a hardened, calcified form) can build up on tooth surfaces. As it grows, so does the mouth's bacterial population and the risk for disease. In fact, just a few days of undisturbed plaque growth is enough time for a gum infection to get started.
Brushing your teeth removes this plaque accumulation, which reduces the bacterial levels in your mouth. A thorough brushing of all surfaces usually takes about two minutes, but it must be done every day to keep plaque at bay. So, yes, a little time spent brushing every day can be a big deal. That said, though, it's not the be-all and end-all of oral hygiene. You should also floss daily since plaque accumulates just as readily in the spaces between teeth where brushing can't reach. We, along with the American Dental Association, recommend brushing twice a day and flossing once a day for optimal oral health.
But no matter how proficient you are with brushing and flossing, you may still miss some spots. Be sure, then, that you also see us regularly for dental cleanings to thoroughly clean your teeth of plaque and fully minimize your risk of dental disease.
Oral hygiene only takes a little of your time each day. But it does add up—not only in the “days” you'll spend doing it, but in a lifetime of better dental health.
If you would like more information about getting the most out of your daily oral hygiene, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Daily Oral Hygiene.”
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