Cancer treatment can be an all-out battle with intense side effects for your entire body. One particular area that can suffer is your mouth.
Chemotherapy and radiation target and destroy cancer cells, which can lead to non-cancerous cells caught in the crossfire and also destroyed. The salivary glands in the mouth are prone to such damage, which could greatly impact your ability to ward off dental disease.
Saliva, what salivary glands produce, plays a major role in oral health. The bodily fluid disseminates antibodies throughout the mouth that fight disease-causing bacteria. It also neutralizes acid, which can erode tooth enamel, and helps restore lost minerals to the enamel.
If the salivary glands become damaged, however, they may produce less saliva and create a condition called xerostomia or “dry mouth.” This is a common occurrence for cancer patients, which can rob them of saliva’s benefits and make them more susceptible to tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. The end result could be tooth loss.
There are things you and your dentist can do to prevent this. First, have a complete dental checkup before undergoing cancer treatment. If at all possible have any necessary dental work undertaken (with adequate recovery time afterward) before beginning chemo or radiation. Your dentist and oncologist (cancer specialist) may need to coordinate any planned dental work.
You should also practice daily oral hygiene with brushing and flossing, along with keeping up your regular dental cleanings. This will prevent the buildup on teeth of bacterial plaque, which in turn will reduce your chances for dental disease. Your dentist may also prescribe antibacterial as well as fluoride mouth rinses to help limit the growth of oral bacteria.
To minimize dry mouth, increase your water consumption as much as possible. You may also use saliva boosters like xylitol, an alcohol-based sweetener found in many gums or mints that promotes salivation (it also deters oral bacterial growth).
And don’t forget to maintain a healthy diet, which will not only benefit your stamina during cancer treatment but can also help you maintain better dental health. Providing good care for your mouth during this trying time will help ensure your teeth and gums stay as healthy as possible.
If you would like more information on oral care, 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.”
September is National Gum Care Month, an ideal time to talk about how to keep your gums healthy. Unfortunately, nearly half of adults have gum disease, which can damage the soft tissue and bone supporting the teeth. In fact, advanced gum disease is the number one reason for tooth loss among adults, and it’s associated with other health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and pregnancy complications. But there’s good news—gum disease is preventable and, in its early stages, even reversible. Here are some tips for taking care of your gums:
Keep up a good oral hygiene routine
Gum disease begins with plaque buildup, so attack the plaque in your mouth with good dental hygiene. Spend two minutes morning and night brushing all surfaces of your teeth, and floss once a day to get rid of plaque that forms between teeth.
Use a soft toothbrush
The American Dental Association recommends brushing gently with a soft toothbrush. Hard bristles can damage your gums and cause them to pull away from the teeth.
Swish with a mouth rinse
Consider using a mouth rinse. Over-the-counter and prescription oral rinses are available to help wash away food debris, reduce plaque and fight gum inflammation.
Say no to tobacco
Smoking is one of the biggest risk factors for developing gum disease. And it’s not just cigarettes but all forms of tobacco, including e-cigarettes, pipes and chewing tobacco, that raise your risk of gum disease.
Eat a healthy diet
For the best gum health, avoid refined carbohydrates (sugary and starchy foods) and make sure you are getting enough vitamin C, vitamin D and antioxidants (found in berries and green tea, for example). In addition, studies suggest that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may reduce your risk of gum disease and other inflammatory conditions. These healthy fats are found in many fish, nuts, seeds, soy products and vegetable oils.
Come in for regular cleanings
Professional dental cleanings can remove plaque from the tiny spaces that are difficult to reach by simply brushing and flossing. And once plaque hardens to form calculus (tartar), it cannot be removed during your regular oral health care routine at home. Further, at the dental office we can detect gum disease in its early stages—and the earlier gum problems are caught, the more easily they can be reversed.
Overbites, underbites, crossbites—these are just a few of the possible malocclusions (poor bites) you or a family member might be experiencing. But no matter which one, any malocclusion can cause problems.
Besides an unattractive smile, a malocclusion makes it more difficult to chew and to keep the teeth and gums clean of disease-causing bacterial plaque. Thus correcting a malocclusion improves dental health; a more attractive smile is an added bonus.
This art of correction—moving teeth back to the positions where they belong—is the focus of a dental specialty called orthodontics. And, as it has been for several decades, the workhorse for achieving this correction is traditional braces.
Braces are an assembly of metal brackets affixed to the teeth through which the orthodontist laces a metal wire. The wire is anchored in some way (commonly to the back teeth) and then tightened to apply pressure against the teeth. Over time this constant and targeted pressure gradually moves the teeth to their new desired positions.
The reason why this procedure works is because teeth can and do move naturally. Although it may seem like they’re rigidly set within the jawbone, teeth are actually held in place by an elastic tissue network known as the periodontal ligament. The ligament lies between the tooth and bone and keeps the tooth secure through tiny fibers attached to both it and the bone. But the ligament also allows teeth to continually make micro-movements in response to changes in chewing or other environmental factors.
In a sense, braces harness this tooth-moving capability like a sail captures the wind propelling a sailboat. With the constant gentle pressure from the wires regularly adjusted by the orthodontist, the periodontal ligament does the rest. If all goes according to plan, in time the teeth will move to new positions and correct the malocclusion.
In a way, braces are the original “smile makeover”—once crooked teeth can become straight and more visually appealing. More importantly, though, correcting a poor bite improves how the mouth works, especially while eating, and keeping things clean. A straighter smile isn’t just more attractive—it’s healthier.
If you would like more information on correcting misaligned teeth, 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.”
While the sport of golf may not look too dangerous from the sidelines, players know it can sometimes lead to mishaps. There are accidents involving golf carts and clubs, painful muscle and back injuries, and even the threat of lightning strikes on the greens. Yet it wasn’t any of these things that caused professional golfer Danielle Kang’s broken tooth on the opening day of the LPGA Singapore tournament.
“I was eating and it broke,” explained Kang. “My dentist told me, I've chipped another one before, and he said, you don't break it at that moment. It's been broken and it just chips off.” Fortunately, the winner of the 2017 Women’s PGA championship got immediate dental treatment, and went right back on the course to play a solid round, shooting 68.
Kang’s unlucky “chip shot” is far from a rare occurrence. In fact, chipped, fractured and broken teeth are among the most common dental injuries. The cause can be crunching too hard on a piece of ice or hard candy, a sudden accident or a blow to the face, or a tooth that’s weakened by decay or repetitive stress from a habit like nail biting. Feeling a broken tooth in your mouth can cause surprise and worry—but luckily, dentists have many ways of restoring the tooth’s appearance and function.
Exactly how a broken tooth is treated depends on how much of its structure is missing, and whether the soft tissue deep inside of it has been compromised. When a fracture exposes the tooth’s soft pulp it can easily become infected, which may lead to serious problems. In this situation, a root canal or extraction will likely be needed. This involves carefully removing the infected pulp tissue and disinfecting and sealing the “canals” (hollow spaces inside the tooth) to prevent further infection. The tooth can then be restored, often with a crown (cap) to replace the entire visible part. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise need to be extracted (removed).
For less serious chips, dental veneers may be an option. Made of durable and lifelike porcelain, veneers are translucent shells that go over the front surfaces of teeth. They can cover minor to moderate chips and cracks, and even correct size and spacing irregularities and discoloration. Veneers can be custom-made in a dental laboratory from a model of your teeth, and are cemented to teeth for a long-lasting and natural-looking restoration.
Minor chips can often be remedied via dental bonding. Here, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to the surfaces being restored. The resin is shaped to fill in the missing structure and hardened by a special light. While not as long-lasting as other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can often be completed in just one office visit.
If you have questions about restoring chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers” and “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin.”
About one American baby in 700 is born with some form of lip or palate cleft—and the percentage is even higher in other parts of the world. At one time this kind of birth defect sentenced a child to a lifetime of social stigma and related health issues. But thanks to a surgical breakthrough over sixty years ago, cleft defects are now routinely treated and repaired.
Oral and facial clefts happen because a child’s facial structure fails to develop normally during pregnancy. This causes gaps or “clefts” to occur in various parts of the mouth or face like the upper lip, the palate (roof of the mouth), the nose or (more rarely) in the cheek or eye region. Clefts can have no tissue fusion at all (a “complete” cleft) or a limited amount (an “incomplete” cleft), and can affect only one side of the face (“unilateral”) or both (“bilateral”).
There was little that could be done up until the early 1950s. That’s when a U.S. Navy surgeon, Dr. Ralph Millard, stationed in Korea noticed after reviewing a series of cleft photos that tissue needed to repair a cleft was most often already present but distorted by the defect. From that discovery, he developed techniques that have since been refined in the ensuing decades to release the distorted tissue and move it to its proper location.
This revolutionary breakthrough has evolved into a multi-stage approach for cleft repair that often requires a team effort from several dental and medical professionals, including oral surgeons, orthodontists and general dentists. The approach may involve successive surgeries over several years with dental care front and center to minimize the threat of decay, maintain proper occlusion (the interaction between the upper and lower teeth, or “bite”), or restore missing teeth with crowns, bridgework or eventually dental implants.
While it’s quite possible this process can span a person’s entire childhood and adolescence, the end result is well worth it. Because of these important surgical advances, a cleft defect is no longer a life sentence of misery.
If you would like more information on treatment for a cleft lip or palate, 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 “Cleft Lip & Cleft Palate.”
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