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 depend on your family dentist for most of your oral care. There are some situations, though, that are best handled by a specialist. If you or a family member has a deeply decayed tooth, for example, it might be in your long-term interest to see an endodontist.
From the Greek words, endo ("within") and odont ("tooth"), endodontics focuses on dental care involving a tooth's interior layers, including the pulp, root canals and roots. While general dentists can treat many endodontic problems, an endodontist has the advanced equipment and techniques to handle more complex cases.
The majority of an endodontist's work involves teeth inwardly affected by tooth decay. The infection has moved beyond the initial cavity created in the enamel and dentin layers and advanced into the pulp and root canals. The roots and underlying bone are in danger of infection, which can endanger the tooth's survival.
The most common treatment is root canal therapy, in which all of the infected tissue is removed from the pulp and root canals. Afterward, the empty spaces are filled and the tooth is sealed and crowned to prevent future infection. General dentists can perform this treatment, primarily with teeth having a single root and less intricate root canal networks. But teeth with multiple roots are a more challenging root canal procedure.
Teeth with multiple roots may have several root canals needing treatment, many of which can be quite small. An endodontist uses a surgical microscope and other specialized equipment, as well as advanced techniques, to ensure all of these inner passageways are disinfected and filled. Additionally, an endodontist is often preferred for previously root-canaled teeth that have been re-infected or conditions that can't be addressed by a traditional root canal procedure.
While your dentist may refer you to an endodontist for a problem tooth, you don't have to wait. You can make an appointment if you think your condition warrants it. Check out the American Association of Endodontists webpage www.aae.org/find for a list of endodontists in your area.
Advanced tooth decay can put your dental health at risk. But an endodontist might be the best choice to overcome that threat and save your tooth.
If you would like more information on endodontic dentistry, 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 “Why See an Endodontist?”
Fans of the primetime TV show The Middle were delighted to see that high school senior Sue, played by Eden Sher, finally got her braces off at the start of Season 6. But since this popular sitcom wouldn’t be complete without some slapstick comedy, this happy event is not without its trials and tribulations: The episode ends with Sue’s whole family diving into a dumpster in search of the teen’s lost retainer. Sue finds it in the garbage and immediately pops it in her mouth. But wait — it doesn’t fit, it’s not even hers!
If you think this scenario is far-fetched, guess again. OK, maybe the part about Sue not washing the retainer upon reclaiming it was just a gag (literally and figuratively), but lost retainers are all too common. Unfortunately, they’re also expensive to replace — so they need to be handled with care. What’s the best way to do that? Retainers should be brushed daily with a soft toothbrush and liquid soap (dish soap works well), and then placed immediately back in your mouth or into the case that came with the retainer. When you are eating a meal at a restaurant, do not wrap your retainer in a napkin and leave it on the table — this is a great way to lose it! Instead, take the case with you, and keep the retainer in it while you’re eating. When you get home, brush your teeth and then put the retainer back in your mouth.
If you do lose your retainer though, let us know right away. Retention is the last step of your orthodontic treatment, and it’s extremely important. You’ve worked hard to get a beautiful smile, and no one wants to see that effort wasted. Yet if you neglect to wear your retainer as instructed, your teeth are likely to shift out of position. Why does this happen?
As you’ve seen firsthand, teeth aren’t rigidly fixed in the jaw — they can be moved in response to light and continuous force. That’s what orthodontic appliances do: apply the right amount of force in a carefully controlled manner. But there are other forces at work on your teeth that can move them in less predictable ways. For example, normal biting and chewing can, over time, cause your teeth to shift position. To get teeth to stay where they’ve been moved orthodontically, new bone needs to form around them and anchor them where they are. That will happen over time, but only if they are held in place with a retainer. That’s why it is so important to wear yours as directed — and notify us immediately if it gets lost.
And if ever you do have to dig your retainer out of a dumpster… be sure to wash it before putting in in your mouth!
If you would like more information on retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers” and “Why Orthodontic Retainers?”
Although adults are more prone to dental disease, children aren't immune from one particular infection, tooth decay. Some children, in fact, are at higher risk for an aggressive form called early childhood caries (ECC).
There are a number of things you can do to help your child avoid this destructive disease, especially daily brushing and flossing to remove bacterial dental plaque, the underlying cause for tooth decay. It's also important for your child to see a dentist regularly for professional dental cleanings and checkups.
But some of their teeth, particularly the back molars, may need some extra attention to fully protect them against decay. This is because larger teeth like molars have numerous pits and crevices along their biting surfaces that can accumulate dental plaque difficult to remove by brushing alone. The added plaque increases the presence of bacteria around the tooth, which increases the risk of decay.
To minimize this possibility, dentists can apply a dental sealant to "smooth out" those pits and crevices in the molars and make it more difficult for plaque to accumulate. This is a quick and painless procedure in which a dentist brushes a liquid plastic resin or similar material onto the teeth's biting surfaces. They then apply a curing light to harden it into a durable coating.
About one-third of children—mostly those considered at higher risk for tooth decay—have undergone sealant treatment. But the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend this preventive measure for all children between ages 5 and 7, and then later between 11 and 14 when additional molars come in. Although there is a moderate cost per tooth for sealant application, it's much less than the potential expense of treating an infected tooth.
Combined with daily oral hygiene and other preventive measures, sealants can reduce the chances of damaging tooth decay. Keeping your child's teeth healthy is an important part in maintaining their dental health today—and tomorrow.
Bite problems aren't limited to teeth simply out of position. The problem could be some teeth aren't there—visibly, that is. They still exist below the gums and bone, but they've been crowded out and blocked from erupting. We call this condition impaction.
Any tooth can become impacted and affect the bite, but a person's smile suffers more if it involves visible front teeth. This is especially so if the teeth in question are upper canines or "eye teeth"—the smile doesn't look normal without these pointed teeth on either side of the central and lateral incisors.
Impacted teeth can also contribute to more than a cosmetic problem: they're more susceptible to abscesses (pockets of infection) or root damage both to themselves or neighboring teeth. To minimize these potential health issues, we'll often remove impacted teeth surgically (as is often done with wisdom teeth).
But because of their important role in not only appearance but also bite function, we may first try to assist impacted canines to fully erupt before considering extraction. It takes a bit of orthodontic "magic," but it can be done.
Before we can make that decision, though, we want to precisely locate the impacted teeth's positions and how it may affect other teeth. This initial evaluation, often with advanced diagnostics like CT scanning or digital x-rays, helps us determine if the impacted teeth are in a workable position to save. If they're not, we may then need to consider removing them and ultimately replacing them with a dental implant or similar restoration.
But if their position is workable and there are no other impediments, we can proceed with helping them erupt. To do this we'll have to first expose them by creating a small opening in the gums through minor surgery. We then bond a small bracket to the tooth, to which we'll attach a small chain that we then attach to orthodontic braces. This enables us to exert continuous pressure on the tooth.
Over time, the pressure coaxes the tooth to erupt. We may still need to apply other forms of orthodontics and cosmetic procedures, but using this procedure to rescue impacted canines can produce a healthier and more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on treating complex bite problems, 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 “Exposing Impacted Canines.”
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