Posts for category: Oral Health
After months or even years of radiation or chemotherapy, the words "cancer-free" is music to your ears. Your joy and relief, though, may be tempered by the toll these treatments can take on the rest of your body—including your mouth.
Both of these treatments can destroy healthy tissue along with targeted cancer cells. If the focus has been on the head and neck regions, they could damage the salivary glands to the point that they won't produce adequate saliva flow.
A lack of saliva can have a detrimental effect on your oral health. Saliva buffers and helps lower oral acid levels that soften and erode enamel and increase the likelihood of tooth decay. Saliva also supplies antibodies that fight disease-causing bacteria. Otherwise, bacteria—and the risk for disease—can rapidly grow.
If these or other scenarios occur, you may experience dental damage, even tooth loss. Fortunately, we can restore an injured smile in various ways, including dentures, bridges or dental implants. But we should also attempt to limit the potential damage by taking steps to prevent dental disease during cancer treatment.
The most important of these is to brush and floss daily. Everyone should practice these hygiene tasks to remove disease-causing dental plaque, regardless of their health status. But because some natural disease-fighting mechanisms in the mouth may be disrupted during either radiation or chemotherapy, it's even more important if you're a cancer patient.
It's equally important to maintain as much as possible regular dental visits during cancer treatment. Dental cleanings provided during these visits remove any residual plaque and tartar (hardened plaque), which further lowers your disease risk.
Your dentist can better monitor your overall dental condition during frequent visits and provide as much treatment as you can tolerate. They can also enhance your protection against disease by prescribing antibacterial mouthrinses, fluoride applications or products to boost saliva production.
Some teeth and gum problems may be unavoidable; in that case, you may need post-treatment dental care to restore your oral health as needed. But caring as much for your dental health as you're able during cancer treatment could help you realize a better outcome.
While most tooth loss stems from dental disease or injury, another major cause is a condition known as cracked tooth syndrome. What begins as a microscopic crack in an individual tooth’s enamel could ultimately grow to a fracture that endangers its survival.
Most often related to age-related brittleness, expansion and contraction of the enamel surface because of hot foods followed by cold foods and beverages, or grinding habits, cracked tooth syndrome usually occurs in three phases. The first phase is the emergence of miniscule cracks in the outer enamel known as craze lines. These can be very difficult to detect even with x-rays, and usually calls for specialized detection methods such as probing with a sharp instrument (an explorer) or fiber-optic lighting with dye staining to highlight enamel abnormalities. If you have pain symptoms, we may ask you to bite down on a bite stick or rubber pad to locate the area by replicating the sensation.
In the next phase, the craze line grows into a crack that penetrates below the enamel into the tooth’s dentin. Pain becomes more prominent and the risk of infection increases. Left untreated, the crack may enter the third phase, a full break (fracture) occurring deep within the inner layers of the tooth. The deeper the fracture occurs, the more serious the danger to the tooth, especially if the pulp is exposed.
The best treatment approach is to attempt to detect and treat a crack as early as possible. Craze lines and moderate cracks can usually be repaired with restorative materials like composite resins. A deeper crack extending into the pulp may require a root canal treatment and the tooth covered with a permanent, protective crown.
If, however, the fracture is too deep, the tooth may be beyond repair and will need to be extracted and replaced with a dental implant or permanent bridge. In any event, the sooner a cracked tooth is discovered and treated, the greater your chance of avoiding pain, discomfort, and, ultimately, tooth loss.
If you would like more information on cracked tooth syndrome, 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 “Cracked Tooth Syndrome.”
Finding out you have a cavity isn't the best of news. But finding out it's a root cavity is even worse: if not treated, the decay can spread more rapidly than a cavity occurring in the tooth's crown surfaces.
Our teeth are basically composed of two parts: the crown, the visible tooth above the gum line, and the roots, the hidden portion beneath the gums. The root in turn fits into a bony socket within the jaw to help hold the tooth in place (along with attached gum ligaments).
A tooth crown is covered by an ultra-hard layer of enamel, which ordinarily protects it from harmful bacteria. But when acid produced by bacteria comes into prolonged contact with enamel, it can soften and erode its mineral content and lead to a cavity.
In contrast to enamel, the roots have a thin layer of material called cementum. Although it offers some protection, it's not at the same performance level as enamel. But roots are also normally covered by the gums, which rounds out their protection.
But what happens when the gums shrink back or recede? This often occurs with gum disease and is more prevalent in older people (and why root cavities are also more common among seniors). The exposed area of the roots with only cementum standing in the way of bacteria and acid becomes more susceptible to cavity formation.
Root cavities can be treated in much the same way as those that occur in the crown. We first remove any decayed tooth structure with a drill and then place a filling. But there's also a scenario in which the cavity is below the gum line: In that case, we may need to gain access to the cavity surgically through the gums.
If you have exposed root areas, we can also treat these with fluoride to strengthen the area against cavity formation. And, as always, prevention is the best treatment: maintain a daily schedule of brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings to remove bacterial plaque.
Because decay can spread within a tooth, dealing with a root cavity should be done as promptly as possible. But if we diagnose and initiate treatment early, your chances of a good outcome are high.
If you would like more information on treating root cavities and other forms of tooth decay, 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 “Root Cavities.”
You might be noticing some changes as you get older: You're getting winded easier and you're wondering why book or magazine print has suddenly shrunk (it didn't). Perhaps you've also noticed your mouth seems drier more often.
It could be a condition called xerostomia, in which your body isn't producing enough saliva. Older people are more prone to it because it's often a side effect of prescription drugs that can inhibit saliva production. Because seniors tend to take more medications than other age groups, xerostomia is a more common problem for them.
Xerostomia isn't a pleasant experience. More importantly, it's hazardous to your oral health. Saliva contains antibodies that fight bacterial infection, and it also neutralizes mouth acid that causes tooth decay. A lack of saliva puts you at greater risk for both tooth decay and gum disease.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to alleviate or ease the effects of xerostomia.
Cut back on spicy foods and caffeinated beverages. Spicy or salty foods can irritate your gum tissues and worsen dry mouth symptoms. Because it's a diuretic, caffeine causes you to lose more fluid, something you can't afford with xerostomia. Cutting back on both will improve your symptoms.
Drink more water. Increasing your daily water intake can help you produce more saliva. It also washes away food particles bacteria feed on and dilutes acid buildup, which can reduce your risk for dental disease.
Talk to your doctor and dentist. If you're taking medications with dry mouth side effects, ask your doctor about other alternatives. You can also ask your dentist about products you can use to boost saliva production.
Practice daily hygiene. Daily hygiene is important for everyone, but especially for those whose saliva flow is sub-par. Brushing and flossing clear away dental plaque, the top cause for dental disease. Along with regular dental visits, this practice can significantly reduce your risk for tooth decay and gum disease.
Taking these steps can help you avoid the discomfort that often accompanies xerostomia. It could also help you prevent diseases that could rob you of your dental health.
If you would like more information on dealing with dry mouth, 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 “10 Tips for Dealing With Dry Mouth.”
While your dentist plays an important role in keeping things inside your mouth healthy, what you do every day often makes the biggest difference. Here are 5 routine things you can do for better oral health.
Brush and floss every day. The most important thing you can do for your teeth and gums is adhere to a daily schedule of brushing and flossing. These twin tasks remove the daily buildup of plaque, a thin bacterial biofilm most responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.
Check your hygiene. There's brushing and flossing—and then there's brushing and flossing effectively. To make sure you're getting the job done, run the tip of your tongue along your teeth after you brush and floss. If it feels smooth, mission accomplished! If it feels rough and gritty, though, try again. You can also use plaque disclosure products occasionally to highlight any missed plaque still on your teeth.
Say no to sugar. Chances are you love sugar—and so do the disease-causing bacteria in your mouth. As they feed on sugar, they multiply and produce acid, which in high levels can erode tooth enamel and lead to tooth decay. Limiting sugar in your diet reduces oral bacteria and the acid they produce, and thus lowers your risk for disease.
Drink plenty of water. Saliva plays an important role in oral health: It helps fight off bacteria, neutralizes acid and re-mineralizes tooth enamel. But it can't do those things if there's not enough of it. So, if your mouth consistently feels dry, drink more water to give your body what it needs to make saliva. Drinking water also washes away food particles that could become plaque and lowers your mouth's acidity.
Maintain your dental appliances. You can extend the life of dentures, retainers or other types of dental appliances by cleaning and maintaining them. You should clean your appliance regularly using regular hand soap or a designated cleaner (not toothpaste, which can be too abrasive). Unless otherwise directed by your dentist, take them out at night and be sure to store them where kids or pets can't get to them.
If you would like more information on best dental care practices, 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 “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”