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.”
You may think an office cleaning is mainly cosmetic — giving your teeth that polished look and you that pleasant, “squeaky clean” feeling. But your dental hygienist is doing more than making your teeth look great during your cleaning session — they’re also providing a valuable service keeping your teeth and gums healthy.
Here, then, are 3 things your dental hygienist is doing during a cleaning session that protects your health.
Removing disease-causing plaque. An office cleaning produces more than a fresh and clean smile. Your hygienist is manually removing plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) in hard to reach places or where it has built up despite your best efforts at brushing and flossing. This built-up plaque is a ready source of bacteria producing acids, which give rise to both tooth decay and gum disease. And for actual occurrences of the latter, plaque removal is an important part of the treatment to restore your gums to a healthy pink.
Checking for signs of dental disease. As your hygienist cleans your teeth, they’re also looking for abnormalities in the mouth’s soft tissue — lumps, bumps, sores, or swelling — that may indicate something more serious requiring further examination. They’re also assessing your overall gum health, probing any areas that might indicate gum disease. And, of course, they’re looking for cavities, softened enamel or other signs of tooth decay.
Helping you improve your oral hygiene.Â As proficient as they are, a dental hygienist can only do so much to help prevent dental disease; the rest — daily brushing and flossing — is on your shoulders. But you’re not completely on your own, because your hygienist is your best personal hygiene training partner: not only can they assess how well you’re doing in your daily regimen, but they can also give you expert advice and tips on improving your brushing and flossing performance.
If you would like more information on the role of your hygienist in your dental 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 “Dental Hygiene Visit.”
The March 27th game started off pretty well for NBA star Kevin Love. His team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, were coming off a 5-game winning streak as they faced the Miami Heat that night. Less than two minutes into the contest, Love charged in for a shot on Heat center Jordan Mickey—but instead of a basket, he got an elbow in the face that sent him to the floor (and out of the game) with an injury to his mouth.
In pictures from the aftermath, Love’s front tooth seemed clearly out of position. According to the Cavs’ official statement, “Love suffered a front tooth subluxation.” But what exactly does that mean, and how serious is his injury?
The dental term “subluxation” refers to one specific type of luxation injury—a situation where a tooth has become loosened or displaced from its proper location. A subluxation is an injury to tooth-supporting structures such as the periodontal ligament: a stretchy network of fibrous tissue that keeps the tooth in its socket. The affected tooth becomes abnormally loose, but as long as the nerves inside the tooth and the underlying bone have not been damaged, it generally has a favorable prognosis.
Treatment of a subluxation injury may involve correcting the tooth’s position immediately and/or stabilizing the tooth—often by temporarily splinting (joining) it to adjacent teeth—and maintaining a soft diet for a few weeks. This gives the injured tissues a chance to heal and helps the ligament regain proper attachment to the tooth. The condition of tooth’s pulp (soft inner tissue) must also be closely monitored; if it becomes infected, root canal treatment may be needed to preserve the tooth.
So while Kevin Love’s dental dilemma might have looked scary in the pictures, with proper care he has a good chance of keeping the tooth. Significantly, Love acknowledged on Twitter that the damage “…could have been so much worse if I wasn’t protected with [a] mouthguard.”
Love’s injury reminds us that whether they’re played at a big arena, a high school gym or an outdoor court, sports like basketball (as well as baseball, football and many others) have a high potential for facial injuries. That’s why all players should wear a mouthguard whenever they’re in the game. Custom-made mouthguards, available for a reasonable cost at the dental office, are the most comfortable to wear, and offer protection that’s superior to the kind available at big-box retailers.
If you have questions about dental injuries or custom-made mouthguards, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
Although dental care has made incredible advances over the last century, the underlying approach to treating tooth decay has changed little. Today’s dentists treat a decayed tooth in much the same way as their counterparts from the early 20th Century: remove all decayed structure, prepare the tooth and fill the cavity.
Dentists still use that approach not only because of its effectiveness, but also because no other alternative has emerged to match it. But that may change in the not-too-distant future according to recent research.
A research team at Kings College, London has found that a drug called Tideglusib, used for treating Alzheimer’s disease, appears to also stimulate teeth to regrow some of its structure. The drug seemed to cause stem cells to produce dentin, one of the tooth’s main structural layers.
During experimentation, the researchers drilled holes in mouse teeth. They then placed within the holes tiny sponges soaked with Tideglusib. They found that within a matter of weeks the holes had filled with dentin produced by the teeth themselves.
Dentin regeneration isn’t a new phenomenon, but other occurrences of regrowth have only produced it in tiny amounts. The Kings College research, though, gives rise to the hope that stem cell stimulation could produce dentin on a much larger scale. If that proves out, our teeth may be able to create restorations by “filling themselves” that are much more durable and with possibly fewer complications.
As with any medical breakthrough, the practical application for this new discovery may be several years away. But because the medication responsible for dentin regeneration in these experiments with mouse teeth is already available and in use, the process toward an application with dental patients could be relatively short.
If so, a new biological approach to treating tooth decay may one day replace the time-tested filling method we currently use. One day, you won’t need a filling from a dentist—your teeth may do it for you.
The term “root canal” is a part of our social lexicon, and not always with a positive meaning. But contrary to its negative reputation, a root canal treatment can make all the difference in your dental health.
Here are 3 things you may not know about this important procedure.
A root canal treatment is a “tooth” saver. Decay deep inside the tooth pulp puts the entire tooth at risk. The infection not only destroys nerves and tissue in the pulp, it has a direct path to the root through tiny passageways known as root canals. By cleaning out this infected tissue, then filling the empty pulp chamber and the root canals with a special filling, the procedure stops the disease from further harm and seals the tooth from future infection. Without it, it’s highly likely the tooth will be lost and other teeth threatened by the infection.
A root canal doesn’t cause pain — it relieves it. The biggest misconception about root canal treatments is their supposed painfulness. That’s just not true, thanks to anesthetic techniques that numb the teeth and gums — and any discomfort afterward is quite manageable with mild anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. The procedure actually stops the real pain, caused by the infection damaging and finally killing the tooth’s nerves, when it stops the infection.
Root canal treatments are even more effective thanks to recent advancements. Not all infected tooth situations are the same: some teeth have smaller offset passageways called accessory canals that grow off a larger root canal that can be quite difficult to detect and access. Missing them can leave the door open for re-infection. In recent years, though, endodontists, specialists in root canal disorders, have improved the way we address these complications using advanced technologies like specialized microscopic equipment and new filling techniques. The result: a lower risk of re-infection and a higher chance of long-term success.
Hopefully, you’ll continue to enjoy good dental health and won’t need a root canal treatment. But if you do, rest assured it won’t be the unpleasant experience you might have thought — and will be a welcomed solution to pain and threatening tooth loss.
If you would like more information on root canal treatments, 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 “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
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