If you’re facing cancer treatment, we wish you the best outcome possible. Treating this disease has advanced tremendously in recent decades, but the available options are still often challenging to endure. It will be your primary focus for the foreseeable future.
As a dental provider we also want you to be aware how the two main treatments, chemotherapy and radiation, could adversely affect your teeth and gums, especially if you’re receiving radiation therapy near the head and neck. The aim of cancer treatment is to attack and destroy cancer cells to prevent their growth. Unfortunately, it can also destroy neighboring healthy cells and lead to harmful consequences in different parts of the body, including the mouth.
Salivary glands, for example, are especially vulnerable to damage during cancer treatment. This could create a situation where the mouth no longer produces adequate saliva flow, leading to a condition called xerostomia or dry mouth. Besides a lot of discomfort, restricted saliva flow can also increase your risk of tooth decay and other dental diseases. This is because saliva is the body’s acid neutralizer (acid can erode tooth enamel) and its first line of defense against microbial infection.
To guard against this, it’s important to support salivary flow as much as possible if you experience dry mouth symptoms during treatment (as well as beyond—it’s possible the damage to these glands could be permanent). Since some medications also contribute to dry mouth, you should speak with your physician about the prescriptions you’re taking: if any have dry mouth side effects ask if there’s an alternative drug without these side effects. You should also drink more water during the day and especially when taking medications. And consider substances like xylitol gum that can help boost saliva flow.
Unfortunately, it may not be possible to fully avoid the effects of these treatments on your teeth and gums. So, be sure you keep up daily brushing and flossing and see your dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups. If necessary, there are a number of restoration options to restore your smile after you’ve completed your treatment.
Is a chipped tooth big news? It is if you’re Justin Bieber. When the pop singer recently posted a picture from the dental office to his instagram account, it got over 2.6 million “likes.” The snapshot shows him reclining in the chair, making peace signs with his hands as he opens wide; meanwhile, his dentist is busy working on his smile. The caption reads: “I chipped my tooth.”
Bieber may have a few more social media followers than the average person, but his dental problem is not unique. Sports injuries, mishaps at home, playground accidents and auto collisions are among the more common causes of dental trauma.
Some dental problems need to be treated as soon as possible, while others can wait a few days. Do you know which is which? Here are some basic guidelines:
A tooth that’s knocked out needs attention right away. First, try and locate the missing tooth and gently clean it with water — but avoid holding the tooth’s roots. Next, grasp the crown of the tooth and place it back in the socket facing the correct way. If that isn’t possible, place it between the cheek and gum, in a plastic bag with the patient’s saliva or a special tooth preservative, or in a glass of cold milk. Then rush to the dental office or emergency room right away. For the best chance of saving the tooth, it should be treated within five minutes.
If a tooth is loosened or displaced (pushed sideways, deeper into or out of its socket), it’s best to seek dental treatment within 6 hours. A complete examination will be needed to find out exactly what’s wrong and how best to treat it. Loosened or displaced teeth may be splinted to give them stability while they heal. In some situations, a root canal may be necessary to save the tooth.
Broken or fractured (cracked) teeth should receive treatment within 12 hours. If the injury extends into the tooth’s inner pulp tissue, root canal treatment will be needed. Depending on the severity of the injury, the tooth may need a crown (cap) to restore its function and appearance. If pieces of the tooth have been recovered, bring them with you to the office.
Chipped teeth are among the most common dental injuries, and can generally be restored successfully. Minor chips or rough edges can be polished off with a dental instrument. Teeth with slightly larger chips can often be restored via cosmetic bonding with tooth-colored resins. When more of the tooth structure is missing, the best solution may be porcelain veneers or crowns. These procedures can generally be accomplished at a scheduled office visit. However, if the tooth is painful, sensitive to heat or cold or producing other symptoms, don’t wait for an appointment — seek help right away.
Justin Bieber earned lots of “likes” by sharing a picture from the dental office. But maybe the take-home from his post is this: If you have a dental injury, be sure to get treatment when it’s needed. The ability to restore a damaged smile is one of the best things about modern dentistry.
If you have questions about dental injury, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Repairing Chipped Teeth” and “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers.”
Due to financial circumstances, people often have a lost tooth restored with a removable partial denture, an effective appliance that restores function and a degree of aesthetic appearance. Later, though, they may want to improve both function and appearance with a dental implant.
If this describes you, you’re making a great choice. Dental implants are the closest technology we have to a natural tooth. But there may be a roadblock to your implant, especially if a long time has passed since your tooth loss—there may not be enough bone at the site to place an implant.
The heart of an implant is a titanium metal post surgically imbedded in the jawbone. The titanium naturally attracts bone cells, which grow and adhere to it to form a solid hold that can support a porcelain crown or other restorations like bridges or dentures. But to achieve a natural appearance it’s important that the implant is placed in the right location. To achieve that requires adequate bone.
But there may not be adequate bone if the tooth has been missing for a while. The forces generated when we chew travel through the teeth to the jawbone, which stimulates bone growth. If that stimulus is absent because of a missing tooth, new bone cells may not replace older ones at a healthy rate and the total bone volume begins to diminish. A denture can’t compensate and, in fact, accelerates bone loss.
But there may be a solution: bone grafting. With this procedure we place a donor bone graft into the area of bone deficiency some time before implant surgery. The graft serves as a scaffold for new bone cells to grow upon. Hopefully, this will produce enough healthy bone to support an implant. If the bone deficiency is minor, we may place the implant and the bone graft at the same time.
If you have experienced bone loss, we must first determine the amount of bone at the missing tooth site and whether grafting is a viable option. Bone grafting postpones your implant, but the delay will be worth the wait if we’re successful. With increased bone volume you’ll be able to obtain a new tooth that’s superior to your current restoration.
Each part of the human body is an intricate wonder. Take your teeth, for example: they’re so woven into everyday life we don’t notice them, yet they each work seamlessly with the jaws and mouth so we can eat, speak and even smile.
Here, then, are a few facts to help you understand — and appreciate — these tiny, amazing wonders we call teeth.
Layer Upon Layer. Rather than one solid mass, teeth are composed of different layers of slightly different tissues each with a unique role in protecting and enabling a tooth to function. Innermost is the pulp filled with connective tissue encasing blood vessels and nerves that transmit sensations to the brain. The next layer out is the dentin, a bone-like material sensitive to touch and other stimuli, which also absorbs some of the forces generated when biting or chewing. The outermost layer is enamel, the hardest material in the body and the tooth’s first defense against infection and other dangers.
Front and Center. Teeth perform different functions depending on their type and location. Front teeth are our “onstage performers” — they help us to speak and enunciate words clearly and, of course, contribute to our smile. They’re also adept at cutting through food when it first enters our mouths.
The Support Team. In keeping with our theater analogy, back teeth are our “backstage crew”: they help support our facial height, provide balance for the jaws as we swallow and protect the front teeth from too much vertical force. They’re also able to crush food before we finally swallow, which aids in the digestive process.
Intended for a Lifetime. If you consider all the environmental factors our teeth face — acidic foods, biting forces and temperature swings to name a few — you then can appreciate their resiliency. Of course, teeth have their enemies: decay, infection and trauma. With daily brushing and flossing and at least a couple of visits a year to our office for cleanings and checkups, you can help thwart many of those enemies. With both our efforts we can make sure your teeth really do last a lifetime.
Considering all the intensive conditioning, practice and training they do, most people would expect elite athletes to be… well… healthy. And that’s generally true — except when it comes to their oral health. A major study of Olympic contenders in the 2012 London games showed that the oral health of athletes is far worse than that of the general population.
Or to put it more succinctly: “They have bodies of Adonis and a garbage mouth.”
That comment, from Dr. Paul Piccininni, a practicing dentist and member of the International Olympic Committee’s medical commission, sums up the study’s findings. In terms of the numbers, the report estimates that about one in five athletes fared worse in competition because of poor oral health, and almost half had not seen a dentist in the past year. It also found that 55 percent had cavities, 45 percent suffered from dental erosion (excessive tooth wear), and about 15 percent had moderate to severe periodontal (gum) disease.
Yet, according to Professor Ian Needleman of University College, London, lead author of the study, “Oral health could be an easy win for athletes, as the oral conditions that can affect performance are all easily preventable.”
Many of the factors that had a negative impact on the athletes are the same ones that can degrade your own oral health. A follow-up paper recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine identified several of these issues. One is a poor diet: The consumption of excessive carbohydrates and acidic foods and beverages (including sports drinks) can cause tooth decay and erosion of the protective enamel. Another is dehydration: Not drinking enough water can reduce the flow of healthy saliva, which can add to the damage caused by carbohydrates and acids. The effects of eating disorders (which are more commonly seen in certain sports, such as gymnastics) can also dramatically worsen an individual’s oral health.
Sound familiar? Maybe it’s because this brings up some issues that dentists have been talking about all along. While we don’t mean to nag, this study does point out that even world-class competitors have room for improvement with their oral hygiene. How about you? Whether you’re a triathlete in training, a weekend warrior or an armchair aficionado, good oral health can have a major effect on your well-being.
If you have additional questions about oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. For more information, see the Dear Doctor magazine article “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
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