Cancer treatment can consume all of your focus to the exclusion of other health issues. But these other issues still need attention, especially how treating cancer could affect other parts of your body. That definitely includes your teeth and gums.
Treatments like radiation or chemotherapy eradicate cancer cells disrupting their growth. Unfortunately, they may do the same to benign cells — “collateral damage,” so to speak. This could cause a ripple effect throughout the body, including in the mouth. Radiation, for example, could damage the salivary glands and result in reduced salivary flow. Because saliva neutralizes acid and diminishes bacterial growth, your risk for tooth decay as well as periodontal (gum) disease could increase.
While you may be able to recover from reduced salivary flow after treatment, your health could suffer in the meantime, even to the point of tooth and bone loss. Fortunately, there are some things we can do before and during your treatment.
If you can, have any necessary dental work performed well before you begin cancer treatment. You’ll be more resistant to side effects if you can start treatment with as healthy a mouth as possible.
Keep up your regular dental visits if at all possible, or see us if you begin seeing signs of dental disease. By staying on schedule, we’ll have a better chance of detecting and treating problems before they advance too far; we may also be able to provide preventive measures like topical fluoride applications to help keep your teeth resistant to disease. If you need more extensive treatment like tooth extraction or surgery we may need to coordinate with your cancer treatment provider.
Above all, continue to practice daily brushing and flossing to remove plaque, the main cause of dental disease. Drink plenty of water or take substances that boost salivation. And be sure to eat a nutritious diet while also reducing or eliminating tobacco or alcohol from your lifestyle.
Taking these steps will help protect your teeth and gums during cancer treatment. As a result, you have a better chance for maintaining your dental health during this critical time in your life.
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.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
Congratulations—you’re engaged! It’s a stupendous (and hectic) time in your life as you plan your upcoming wedding.
You want to look your best for the big day—which means you may be dieting, exercising or making changes to your hairstyle and makeup. Be sure, though, to consider another important part of your appearance—your teeth and gums. Here are a few options that could help your wedding day smile shine even more.
Cleanings and whitening. While dental cleanings are primarily about removing disease-causing plaque and tartar they can also give your teeth that clean and polished look. And if you want an extra boost in brightness, consider whitening—we may be able to lighten up your teeth’s stain-induced dullness.
Bonding. If your teeth have slight imperfections—chipping, slight gaps or staining that doesn’t respond well to whitening, consider bonding techniques to repair or cover these defects. Composite resin is a dental material that can be shaped and bonded to teeth to reform a deformed tooth—and with color matching as well. For more extensive defects you can cover the front of imperfect teeth with bonded porcelain veneers or completely cap a tooth with a custom crown.
Tooth restorations. If you have missing teeth marring your smile, you have several options. The top choice: dental implants, which replaces the root of the tooth and will be able to have a crown attached to it. An implant can thus restore both better function and appearance. For more affordable options, you can also turn to fixed bridges or removable dentures. The latter can be custom designed to replace all the teeth on a jaw arch or just a few in different locations.
Gum enhancements. Teeth aren’t the only part of your smile that might need a helpful touch—your gums’ appearance might also be a problem. There are cosmetic procedures including plastic surgery and tissue grafting that can help correct overly prominent “gummy” smiles or, at the other end of the spectrum, longer appearing teeth because of gum recession.
Orthodontics. If you have extended time before the wedding date, we may be able to correct crooked teeth or a poor bite (malocclusion) that’s adversely impacting your smile. In some cases, you may be able to choose clear aligners, removable plastic trays that are hardly noticeable to others, over more visible braces to correct your bite.
In the realm of restorative dentistry, dental implants are king. A dental implant can replace a tooth with a permanent, life-like restoration with a solid reputation for durability.
Implants are also known for one other quality — variety. Not all implants are alike, and they have varied applications for use. Available in various shapes and sizes, they can be used for a single tooth or as part of a multiple tooth bridge or overdenture. And while their basic architecture is the same, you also have two options for how the permanent crown (the visible tooth portion) attaches to the implant: screwed or cemented.
A screw attachment can securely fasten a crown to an implant without the need for cement; it also allows for easy removal for repair or replacement should the crown become damaged or worn. On the other hand, it could pose a cosmetic problem — even though the access hole for the screw may be covered with a tooth-colored filling, it could still be distinguishable from the rest of the crown. There’s also a slight risk of the crown chipping around the access hole.
A crown cemented to the implant won’t have this cosmetic issue with an access hole, and will look just like a natural tooth. But unlike a screwed crown, removing a cemented crown can be more difficult. The cement may also cause gum inflammation and potential bone loss in sensitive patients.
The condition of your mouth, the type of implant you’re receiving and other circumstances will all factor into determining which method is best for you. If we’re “immediately loading” the crown (meaning we’re affixing a temporary crown to the implant immediately after placement in the jaw), then the screw method may be more advantageous. Aesthetically speaking, though, a cemented crown may be a better option in terms of final smile appearance.
But whichever method is used, you’ll still benefit from what implants do best — help you regain the function lost from a missing tooth and change your smile for the better.
If you would like more information on your options with 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 “How Crowns Attach to Implants.”
When your baby’s first teeth come in, you might not think it necessary yet to worry about tooth decay. But even infants can develop this common dental disease. In fact, it has a specific name in children 6 and under: early childhood caries (ECC).
About one-fourth of U.S. children have ECC, and poor or minority children are at highest risk. Because of primary (“baby”) teeth’s thin enamel layer, ECC can spread to healthier teeth with unnerving speed, causing extensive damage.
While such damage immediately affects a child’s nutrition, speech development and self-esteem, it could also impact their future oral health. Permanent teeth often erupt out of position because of missing primary teeth lost prematurely, creating a poor bite. And children with ECC are more likely to have cavities in their future permanent teeth.
While there are a number of effective treatments for repairing ECC-caused damage, it’s best to try to prevent it before damage occurs. A large part of prevention depends on you. You should, for example, begin oral hygiene even before teeth come in by wiping their gums with a clean, damp cloth after feeding. After teeth appear, switch to daily brushing with just a smear of toothpaste.
Because refined sugar is a primary food source for decay-causing bacteria, you should limit it in their diet. In the same vein, avoid sleep-time bottles with fluids like juices, milk or formula. As they grow older, make sure snacks are also low in sugar.
You should also avoid spreading your own oral bacteria to your baby. In this regard, don’t put their eating utensils or pacifier in your mouth and don’t drink from the same cup. Avoid kissing your baby on the lips. And above all, take care of your own oral health to prevent your own encounter with dental disease.
Finally, start regular dental visits on or before your baby’s first birthday. Regular cleanings and checkups increase the chances for early decay detection, as well as provide for treatments and prevention measures that can reduce the disease’s spread and destruction.
ECC can be devastating to both your baby’s current and future dental health. But with vigilance and good dental practices, you may be able to help them avoid this serious disease.
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