Cancer treatment can be an all-out battle with intense side effects for your entire body. One particular area that can suffer is your mouth.
Chemotherapy and radiation target and destroy cancer cells, which can lead to non-cancerous cells caught in the crossfire and also destroyed. The salivary glands in the mouth are prone to such damage, which could greatly impact your ability to ward off dental disease.
Saliva, what salivary glands produce, plays a major role in oral health. The bodily fluid disseminates antibodies throughout the mouth that fight disease-causing bacteria. It also neutralizes acid, which can erode tooth enamel, and helps restore lost minerals to the enamel.
If the salivary glands become damaged, however, they may produce less saliva and create a condition called xerostomia or “dry mouth.” This is a common occurrence for cancer patients, which can rob them of saliva’s benefits and make them more susceptible to tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. The end result could be tooth loss.
There are things you and your dentist can do to prevent this. First, have a complete dental checkup before undergoing cancer treatment. If at all possible have any necessary dental work undertaken (with adequate recovery time afterward) before beginning chemo or radiation. Your dentist and oncologist (cancer specialist) may need to coordinate any planned dental work.
You should also practice daily oral hygiene with brushing and flossing, along with keeping up your regular dental cleanings. This will prevent the buildup on teeth of bacterial plaque, which in turn will reduce your chances for dental disease. Your dentist may also prescribe antibacterial as well as fluoride mouth rinses to help limit the growth of oral bacteria.
To minimize dry mouth, increase your water consumption as much as possible. You may also use saliva boosters like xylitol, an alcohol-based sweetener found in many gums or mints that promotes salivation (it also deters oral bacterial growth).
And don’t forget to maintain a healthy diet, which will not only benefit your stamina during cancer treatment but can also help you maintain better dental health. Providing good care for your mouth during this trying time will help ensure your teeth and gums stay as healthy as possible.
If you would like more information on oral 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 “Oral Health During Cancer Treatment.”
Gum disease is a bigger problem than you might think. More than half of all adults over age 30 have it, and that figure jumps to 70% of adults over 65. If left untreated, gum (periodontal) disease can eventually loosen teeth and cause them to fall out. It can also cause health issues outside of the mouth, including an increased risk of heart disease and other systemic health conditions.
But the good news is that gum disease can be treated—and even better, prevented! Since September is National Gum Care Month, it’s a good time to answer some frequently asked questions about gum disease:
What causes gum disease?
Gum disease is caused by certain types of harmful oral bacteria that live in a sticky film called dental plaque that collects on teeth both above and below the gum line. If this film is not cleaned effectively each day, it can eventually harden into a substance called tartar that can only be removed by a dental professional. As your body tries to fight the bacteria and the toxins they produce, your gums can become inflamed and may start to pull away from the teeth. Eventually, bone beneath the gums can start to break down and with continued bone loss, the teeth could be lost.
How do I know if I have it?
Gum disease doesn’t always produce symptoms—especially in smokers. Smoking hides the symptoms of gum disease because nicotine reduces blood flow to the area. However, there are things you should look out for. Gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease, can produce red and/or puffy gums that bleed when you brush or floss. Signs of periodontitis, a more serious form of the disease, include gum recession, bad mouth odors or tastes, and tooth looseness. But the only way to truly know if you have gum disease is to come in for an exam.
What can I do about it?
If you have gingivitis, a professional teeth cleaning and a renewed commitment to oral hygiene at home—including daily flossing and rinsing with antibacterial mouthwash—may be all you need to turn the situation around. Periodontitis may require a variety of treatments, ranging from special cleaning procedures of the tooth root surfaces to gum surgery. The first step toward controlling gum disease is visiting the dental office for an exam.
How can I prevent it?
Regular professional teeth cleanings and meticulous oral hygiene at home are your best defenses against gum disease. Avoid sugary drinks and snacks—which feed the disease-causing bacteria in your mouth—and tobacco in all forms. If you have diabetes, do your best to manage it well because uncontrolled diabetes can worsen periodontal disease.
On the big screen, Australian-born actress Margot Robbie may be best known for playing devil-may-care anti-heroes—like Suicide Squad member Harley Quinn and notorious figure skater Tonya Harding. But recently, a discussion of her role in Peter Rabbit proved that in real life, she’s making healthier choices. When asked whether it was hard to voice a character with a speech impediment, she revealed that she wears retainers in her mouth at night, which gives her a noticeable lisp.
“I actually have two retainers,” she explained, “one for my bottom teeth which is for grinding my teeth, and one for my top teeth which is just so my teeth don't move.”
Clearly Robbie is serious about protecting her dazzling smile. And she has good reasons for wearing both of those retainers. So first, let’s talk about retainers for teeth grinding.
Also called bruxism, teeth grinding affects around 10 percent of adults at one time or another, and is often associated with stress. If you wake up with headaches, sore teeth or irritated gums, or your sleeping partner complains of grinding noises at night, you may be suffering from nighttime teeth grinding without even being aware of it.
A type of retainer called an occlusal guard is frequently recommended to alleviate the symptoms of bruxism. Typically made of plastic, this appliance fits comfortably over your teeth and prevents them from being damaged when they rub against each other. In combination with stress reduction techniques and other conservative treatments, it’s often the best way to manage teeth grinding.
Orthodontic retainers are also well-established treatment devices. While appliances like braces or aligners cause teeth to move into better positions, retainers are designed to keep teeth from moving—helping them to stay in those positions. After active orthodontic treatment, a period of retention is needed to allow the bite to stabilize. Otherwise, the teeth can drift right back to their old locations, undoing the time and effort of orthodontic treatment.
So Robbie has the right idea there too. However, for those who don’t relish the idea of wearing a plastic appliance, it’s often possible to bond a wire retainer to the back surfaces of the teeth, where it’s invisible. No matter which kind you choose, wearing a retainer can help keep your smile looking great for many years to come.
If you have questions about teeth grinding or orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
Unlike the months on either side, August isn't known for major holidays. But it does have one cause for celebration: National Fresh Breath Day! True, this observance will probably never achieve big-time recognition. Yet everyone would agree that fresh breath is something to appreciate! Unfortunately, bad breath is a persistent problem for many people. The first step in treating it is to identify the cause. Here are 5 common causes of bad breath:
1. Poor oral hygiene. Certain types of oral bacteria cause bad breath, and the mouth provides a perfect environment for them—especially when dental plaque and food debris is not well cleansed. So to keep your breath fresh, maintain a diligent oral hygiene routine. This includes brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and flossing at least once a day. For an extra-clean mouth, use a tongue scraper—a plastic tool about the size of a toothbrush that's available in most drug stores. This will remove bacteria and food debris from your tongue for extra freshness.
2. Oral diseases. Bad odors in your mouth may also be caused by infections—which is what tooth decay and gum disease actually are. Sometimes old fillings wear out, allowing bacteria to re-infect a tooth that was once treated for decay. Other signs of these common oral diseases include tooth pain and bleeding or puffy gums. If you notice any of these, don't ignore it—make a dental appointment today!
3. Diet. Smelly foods will give you smelly breath; it's that simple. And the odors may linger after you have eaten them. When onion, garlic and other pungent foods are digested, their odor-producing substances enter your bloodstream and proceed to your lungs—which can affect how your breath smells. If you suspect your dietary habits are causing bad breath, try eliminating certain foods (at least temporarily) and see if that helps.
4. Dry mouth. Saliva helps cleanse your mouth, so reduced saliva flow can lead to bad breath. This accounts for "morning breath," which is caused when the mouth dries out during sleep (especially if you are a mouth-breather). However, some people don't produce enough saliva throughout the day. Sometimes it's just that they don't drink enough water. But a very common cause of chronic dry mouth is regular use of medications, both prescription and over-the-counter. If you notice that medication is drying out your mouth, let your doctor know. And stay hydrated!
5. Smoking. Given that smoking increases your risk for many serious diseases, including oral cancer, the fact that it can lead to bad breath seems almost trivial. Still, it's worth noting that smoking causes mouth odor both directly and indirectly by reducing the flow of saliva and promoting gum disease. In fact, tobacco in all forms is a hazard to your health.
If you'd like more information on bad breath, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Warning Signs of Periodontal (Gum) Disease” and “Dry Mouth.”
If you followed the 2018 FIFA World Cup Soccer games, you probably know that one of this year’s biggest surprises was the debut of the team from Iceland—the smallest country ever to earn a chance at the sport’s top prize. But here’s something you may not have known: When he’s not on the field, the team’s coach, Heimir Hallgrímsson, is a practicing dentist! Those two skill sets might not seem like a natural fit… but they came together dramatically at a recent contest.
At a local women’s game last summer, when a player was hit and her tooth was knocked out, Dr. Hallgrímsson took immediate action. “I jumped on the pitch and put the tooth back in, took her to a dental office and fixed it,” he said.
Not everyone has the special training or ability to fix a tooth that has been damaged or knocked out—but there are some simple things that you can do to help an adult who has suffered this kind of injury. Here’s a quick run-down:
- After making sure the person is stable and not otherwise seriously injured, try to locate the tooth.
- Handle it carefully, without touching root surfaces, and clean it gently with water if possible.
- Try to open and gently rinse out the mouth, and find where the tooth came from.
- Carefully place the tooth back in its socket, making sure it is facing the right way, and hold it in place with a soft cloth.
- If the tooth can’t be re-implanted, place it in a bag with a special preservative solution, milk or saliva, or have the person hold it between the cheek and gum—but make sure it isn’t swallowed!
- Rush to the nearest dental office or urgent care facility.
When these steps are followed and the person receives professional treatment as quickly as possible (ideally within minutes), their tooth will have the best chance of being saved. But even if it isn’t possible to preserve the tooth, receiving prompt and appropriate care can make replacing the tooth much easier.
Having Dr. Hallgrímsson on the sidelines was a lucky break for the injured soccer player—and as a coach, just getting to the World Cup is a remarkable achievement. But you don’t need to be a coach (or a dentist) to give first aid in a dental emergency. Taking the right steps can help ensure the best possible outcome… and might even save a tooth!
If you would like more information about emergency dental treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor articles “Knocked Out Tooth” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
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