While the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation have contributed to rising cancer survival rates, they can still have an adverse effect on the rest of the body. That includes the mouth: these treatments can damage healthy tissues like the salivary glands. The decrease in saliva flow increases the risk of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
While overcoming cancer is certainly the patient’s main health priority, it’s important for them to tend to their oral health. The best approach often involves a three-way partnership between patient, dentist and family caregivers all doing their part to keep the patient’s teeth, gums and mouth healthy during cancer treatment.
Here’s what each “partner” can do to protect a cancer patient’s oral health during treatment.
The dentist. To minimize dental disease odds, patients should enter cancer treatment with their teeth and gums in the best shape possible. Before beginning treatment, then, the dentist can assess their oral health status and recommend a treatment plan for any existing disease or condition. The dentist can also monitor a patient’s oral health during the treatment period.
The patient. Patients can do the most to protect their oral health by removing disease-causing plaque buildup with daily brushing and flossing, as well as maintaining their regular schedule of dental cleanings (if possible). They should also attempt to reduce dry mouth, a potential consequence of cancer treatment, by consuming more water and using saliva boosters like Xylitol-sweetened gums and mints. A nutritious diet is also important for protecting oral health.
The caregiver. Many cancer patients depend on family or friends to aid them during treatment. One of the best things a caregiver can do is act as a liaison between the patient and their medical and dental providers. When it comes to oral health, caregivers should be on the alert for any mouth changes including tooth pain, gum swelling or bleeding, foul breath and other signs of disease.
Focusing on oral health can be a daunting challenge for patients during their fight with cancer. But with help from their other partners, they can come out of this fight with their teeth, gums and mouth in good health.
If you would like more information on oral 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.”
If you wince in pain while eating or drinking something hot or cold, you’re not alone: tooth sensitivity afflicts one in three Americans. To understand what’s possibly going on, let’s look first at tooth anatomy.
Teeth are mainly composed of three layers: an outer protective enamel that covers the upper crown, a middle layer called dentin and an inner pulp. The dentin is composed of small tubules that transmit outer temperature and pressure sensations to nerves in the pulp.
The enamel serves as a “muffler,” damping sensations to protect the nerves from overload. In the root area, the gums and a thin material called cementum covering the roots also help muffle sensation.
But sometimes teeth can lose this muffling effect and the nerves encounter the full brunt of the sensations. The most common reason is gum recession, usually caused by periodontal (gum) disease. The gums have shrunk back or “receded,” and after a short while the cementum covering will also be lost, exposing the dentin in the root area.
Another problem is enamel erosion caused by mouth acid. Chronic high acidity, often caused by bacterial growth or acidic foods and beverages, can dissolve the enamel’s mineral content, causing decay and exposure as well of the underlying dentin.
To avoid future tooth sensitivity, it pays to prevent these two dental problems. The most important thing you can do is practice daily brushing and flossing to reduce bacterial plaque and see your dentist regularly for dental cleanings and checkups.
But if you’re already experiencing symptoms, you’ll first need an accurate diagnosis of the cause. If it’s related to gum disease, immediate treatment could help stop or even reverse any gum recession. To address enamel erosion, your dentist may be able to protect and strengthen your teeth with sealants and topical fluoride.
There are also things you and your dentist can do to reduce your symptoms. One is for you to use hygiene products with fluoride, which can take the edge off of sensitivity, or potassium, which helps reduce nerve activity. Your dentist can further reduce nerve sensitivity by blocking the tubules with sealants and bonding agents.
Tooth sensitivity is an irritating problem in itself; more importantly, though, it’s often a warning of something else seriously wrong that needs attention. If you’re feeling a little sensitive in the teeth, see your dentist as soon as possible.
If you would like more information on tooth sensitivity, 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 “Treatment of Tooth Sensitivity: Understanding Your Options.”
Sometimes, looking at old pictures can really bring memories back to life. Just ask Stefani Germanotta—the pop diva better known as Lady Gaga. In one scene from the recent documentary Five Foot Two, as family members sort through headshots from her teen years, her father proclaims: "Here, this proves she had braces!"
"If I had kept that gap, then I would have even more problems with Madonna," Lady Gaga replies, referencing an ongoing feud between the two musical celebrities.
The photos of Gaga's teenage smile reveal that the singer of hits like "Born This Way" once had a noticeable gap (which dentists call a diastema) between her front teeth. This condition is common in children, but often becomes less conspicuous with age. It isn't necessarily a problem: Lots of well-known people have extra space in their smiles, including ex-football player and TV host Michael Strahan, actress Anna Paquin…and fellow pop superstar Madonna. It hasn't hurt any of their careers.
Yet others would prefer a smile without the gap. Fortunately, diastema in children is generally not difficult to fix. One of the easiest ways to do so is with traditional braces or clear aligners. These orthodontic appliances, usually worn for a period of months, can actually move the teeth into positions that look more pleasing in the smile and function better in the bite. For many people, orthodontic treatment is a part of their emergence from adolescence into adulthood.
Braces and aligners, along with other specialized orthodontic appliances, can also remedy many bite problems besides diastema. They can correct misaligned teeth and spacing irregularities, fix overbites and underbites, and take care of numerous other types of malocclusions (bite problems).
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that kids get screened for orthodontic problems at age 7. Even if an issue is found, most won't get treatment at this age—but in some instances, it's possible that early intervention can save a great deal of time, money and effort later. For example, while the jaw is still developing, its growth can be guided with special appliances that can make future orthodontic treatment go quicker and easier.
Yet orthodontics isn't just for children—adults can wear braces too! As long as teeth and gums are healthy, there's no upper age limit on orthodontic treatment. Instead of traditional silver braces, many adults choose tooth-colored braces or clear aligners to complement their more professional appearance.
So if your child is at the age where screening is recommended—or if you're unhappy with your own smile—ask us whether orthodontics could help. But if you get into a rivalry with Madonna…you're on your own.
If you have questions about orthodontic treatment, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Magic of Orthodontics” and “Orthodontics For The Older Adult.”
You're doing all the right things helping your child avoid tooth decay: daily brushing and flossing, regular dental visits and a low-sugar diet. But although occurrences are low, they're still getting cavities.
Some children still struggle with tooth decay even with proper dental care. If this is happening to your child, your dentist may be able to give them an extra preventive boost through topical fluoride.
Fluoride has long been recognized as a proven cavity fighter. Often added in small amounts to toothpastes and drinking water, fluoride strengthens tooth enamel against acid attacks that create cavities. With topical fluoride, a dentist applies a varnish, foam or gel containing a more concentrated amount of the chemical directly to the teeth.
The effectiveness of this method in reducing tooth decay is well-founded: A number of scientific studies involving thousands of children and adolescents found an average 28% reduction in occurrences of decay among those who received the treatment compared to those who didn't.
Still, many parents have concerns about the higher fluoride concentrations in topical applications. But even at this greater amount, fluoride doesn't appear to pose any long-term health risks. The most adverse effects—vomiting, headaches or stomach pain—usually occur if a child accidentally ingests too much of the solution during treatment.
Dentists, however, go to great lengths to prevent this by using guards to isolate the solution during an application. And in the case of a foam or gel application, parents can further lower the risk of these unpleasant side effects by not allowing their child to eat or drink for at least thirty minutes after the procedure.
The evidence seems to indicate that the benefits of regular topical fluoride applications for children at high risk outweigh the possible side effects. By adding this measure to your prevention strategy, you can further protect your child from this danger to their current and future dental health.
If you would like more information on tooth decay prevention for your child, 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 “Fluoride Gels Reduce Decay.”
Visiting the dentist for regular cleanings and needed dental work can do wonders for keeping your teeth and gums in tip-top shape. But if you’ve seen or heard about infections occurring in healthcare facilities, you might be a little concerned that your trip to the dentist might expose you to one. Don’t be! You and your family will be out of harm’s way because your dental team has made protection from viruses, bacteria and other infectious agents a top priority. To highlight this effort, the American Academy of Oral Medicine commemorates each September as “National Dental Infection Control Awareness Month.”
As a healthcare provider, dentists have a legal, moral and ethical obligation to protect patients (and staff members too) from infection through what are known as “standard precautions.” These include barrier protection, disinfection and sterilization practices, and safe disposal of contaminated items.
But dentists and their professional organizations don’t stop with the minimum requirements—they’re committed to a higher standard when it comes to infection control. The bedrock for this commitment is adherence to an infection control checklist developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), updated regularly. This in-depth checklist recommends several best practices and protocols, including:
- Creating a written infection control plan that outlines all practices and procedures to be followed by the provider and staff;
- Barrier protection, including the wearing of disposable gloves, face shields or gowns by providers as appropriate;
- Proper disposal methods for used items;
- Proper hand washing and other hygiene practices before and after treatment procedures;
- Proper disinfection and sterilization of instruments and equipment;
Most licensing bodies also require that dentists and their staff undergo continuing education in infection control, usually every two years.
Because you as a patient have a right to know the details about your medical and dental care, you have public access to infection control guidelines and requirements. You can also ask your dental provider about what steps they take to protect you and your family from infectious disease. They’ll be glad to answer any questions you have to put your mind at ease about your safety.
The dental profession’s commitment to patient and staff safety has drastically reduced the risk of any infection. Rest assured, your dental visit will be beneficial for your oral health—and safe for your general health too.
If you would like more information about infection control in the dental office, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Infection Control in the Dental Office” and “Shingles, Herpes Zoster: A One-Sided Facial Rash.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.