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.”
Most of us have encountered something hot that’s burned or scalded the inside of our mouth—not a pleasant feeling. But what if you have a similar burning sensation without eating or drinking anything to cause it?
It’s not your imagination: It could be a condition called burning mouth syndrome (BMS), the feeling your mouth is burned or scalded without an apparent cause. It’s often accompanied by dryness, numbness, or tingling. You may feel it throughout the mouth, or just in “hot spots” around the lips, tongue or other mouth structures.
Researchers haven’t pinpointed exact causes yet for BMS. It’s most common in women around menopause, connecting it to a possible hormonal imbalance. It’s also been linked to diabetes, nutritional deficiencies, medication, acid reflux, cancer treatment or psychological issues. Because it can persist for years, BMS can contribute to irritability, anxiety or depression.
If you’re experiencing BMS, there are things you can do to diminish its effect. First, though, have your dentist give you a complete oral exam and take a thorough medical history. They can then give you specific treatment recommendations based on what they reveal.
For example, if symptoms seem to increase after brushing your teeth, you might be having a reaction to a toothpaste ingredient, usually the foaming agent sodium lauryl sulfate. Your dentist may recommend experimenting with other toothpaste brands.
Other treatment options include:
- Alleviating dry mouth symptoms by changing medications (as your doctor advises), drinking more water and using saliva-boosting products;
- Quitting smoking and reducing your consumption of alcohol, coffee and spicy foods;
- Chronicling your diet to look for connections between individual foods and BMS flare-ups—you may need to restrict these in your diet.
- And because it seems to aggravate BMS symptoms, reducing acute stress with relaxation techniques or therapeutic counseling.
If your dentist can’t fully diagnose your condition or the steps you take aren’t reducing your symptoms, you may be referred to an oral pathologist (a dental specialist in mouth diseases). The key is not to give up until you find a workable treatment strategy. Through a little trial and error, you may be able to overcome the discomfort of BMS.
If you would like more information on Burning Mouth 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 “Burning Mouth Syndrome.”
Sometimes it seems that appearances count for everything—especially in Hollywood. But just recently, Lonnie Chaviz, the 10-year-old actor who plays young Randall on the hit TV show This Is Us, delivered a powerful message about accepting differences in body image. And the whole issue was triggered by negative social media comments about his smile.
Lonnie has a noticeable diastema—that is, a gap between his two front teeth; this condition is commonly seen in children, but is less common in adults. There are plenty of celebrities who aren’t bothered by the excess space between their front teeth, such as Michael Strahan, Lauren Hutton and Vanessa Paradis. However, there are also many people who choose to close the gap for cosmetic or functional reasons.
Unfortunately, Lonnie had been on the receiving end of unkind comments about the appearance of his smile. But instead of getting angry, the young actor posted a thoughtful reply via Instagram video, in which he said: “I could get my gap fixed. Braces can fix this, but like, can you fix your heart, though?”
Lonnie is raising an important point: Making fun of how someone looks shows a terrible lack of compassion. Besides, each person’s smile is uniquely their own, and getting it “fixed” is a matter of personal choice. It’s true that in most circumstances, if the gap between the front teeth doesn’t shrink as you age and you decide you want to close it, orthodontic appliances like braces can do the job. Sometimes, a too-big gap can make it more difficult to eat and to pronounce some words. In other situations, it’s simply a question of aesthetics—some like it; others would prefer to live without it.
There’s a flip side to this issue as well. When teeth need to be replaced, many people opt to have their smile restored just the way it was, rather than in some “ideal” manner. That could mean that their dentures are specially fabricated with a space between the front teeth, or the crowns of their dental implants are spaced farther apart than they normally would be. For these folks, the “imperfection” is so much a part of their unique identity that changing it just seems wrong.
So if you’re satisfied with the way your smile looks, all you need to do is keep up with daily brushing and flossing, and come in for regular checkups and cleanings to keep it healthy and bright. If you’re unsatisfied, ask us how we could help make it better. And if you need tooth replacement, be sure to talk to us about all of your options—teeth that are regular and “Hollywood white;” teeth that are natural-looking, with minor variations in color and spacing; and teeth that look just like the smile you’ve always had.
Because when it comes to your smile, we couldn’t agree more with what Lonnie Chaviz said at the end of his video: “Be who you want to be. Do what you want to do. Do you. Be you. Believe in yourself.”
If you have questions about cosmetic dentistry, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Beautiful Smiles by Design” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
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.”
One thing’s for sure: We’re all getting older. Here’s another sure thing: Aging doesn’t necessarily look the same on everyone. That one spry octogenarian lapping younger folks on the track is all the proof you need. That’s why September has been designated Healthy Aging® Month: to remind everyone that aging well is an investment you make throughout your life—and that includes taking care of your dental health.
Just like the rest of the body, your teeth and gums are susceptible to the effects of aging. For example, after 50,000-plus meals (about 45 years’ worth), you can expect some teeth wear. A tooth-grinding habit, though, could accelerate that wear. If you think you’re grinding your teeth (especially at night), we can fit you with mouthguard worn while you sleep that reduces the force on your teeth. Managing your stress could also help reduce this involuntary habit.
Aging also increases your risk for the two most common dental diseases, tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Although different in the way they infect oral tissues, both can ultimately cause tooth and bone loss. Prevention is your best strategy—through daily oral hygiene and visiting the dentist regularly to keep the dental plaque that fuels both diseases from building up on your teeth.
You should also see your dentist at the first sign of a toothache, unusual spots on the teeth and swollen or bleeding gums. These are all indicative of infection—and the sooner you’re diagnosed and treated, the more quickly you can return to optimum oral health.
Aging can bring other health conditions, and some of the medications to manage them could reduce your mouth’s saliva flow. Because saliva fights dental infections and helps restore enamel after acid attacks, “dry mouth” can increase your disease risk. If you’re noticing this, speak with your doctor about your medications, ask us about saliva boosters, and drink more water.
Finally, have any existing restorations checked regularly, especially dentures, which can lose their fit. Loose dentures may also be a sign of continuing bone loss in the jaw, a consequence of losing teeth. If so, consider dental implants: The design of this premier tooth restoration can help curb bone loss by encouraging new growth.
There’s a lot to keep up with health-wise if you want your senior years to be full of vim and vigor. Be sure your teeth and gums are part of that upkeep.
If you would like more information about protecting your dental health as you age, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Understanding Aging Makes Beauty Timeless” and “Dry Mouth: Causes and Treatment for This Common Problem.”
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