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.”
To keep a healthy smile, brushing and flossing your teeth every day should be at the top of your to-do list, along with regular dental visits. Dental visits are usually scheduled every six months when your dental professional will remove any built-up plaque and tartar (hardened plaque deposits) missed during everyday hygiene.
If you've experienced periodontal (gum) disease, however, these dental visits may become even more important toward preventing a re-infection. For one thing, your dentist may want to see you more frequently.
Gum disease is caused by bacteria living in dental plaque, which first infect the superficial layers of gum tissue. Even though the body initiates an inflammatory response to fight it, the infection continues to grow as long as there is plaque present to fuel it. The problem isn't just plaque on the visible tooth surface—hidden plaque beneath the gum line can create deep pockets of infection that can be difficult to treat.
To stop the infection, dentists must manually remove plaque through procedures known as scaling and root planing. Any and all plaque and tartar deposits must be removed, even those deep around the roots, to arrest the infection. This often requires several treatment sessions and sometimes gum surgery to access areas below the gum line.
These types of treatments, especially in the disease's early stages, have a good chance of restoring health to your gums. But because of the high possibility of reinfection, your dentist will need to step up your regular dental maintenance from now on. This could mean visits as frequent as every few weeks, depending on your particular case of gum disease and your dentist's recommendation.
Your dental visits after gum disease may also become more involved than before. Your dentist will now monitor you closely for any signs of reinfection and at the first sign initiate a new round of treatment. You may also need surgical procedures to make some areas around your teeth more accessible for future cleaning and maintenance.
Periodontal maintenance after gum disease helps ensure another infection doesn't rise up to undermine your progress. To paraphrase a well-known quote, eternal vigilance is the price of continuing good dental health.
As the host of America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC TV, Alfonso Ribeiro has witnessed plenty of unintentional physical comedy…or, as he puts it in an interview with Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "When people do stuff and you're like, 'Dude, you just hurt yourself for no reason!'" So when he had his own dental dilemma, Alfonso was determined not to let it turn onto an "epic fail."
The television personality was in his thirties when a painful tooth infection flared up. Instead of ignoring the problem, he took care of it by visiting his dentist, who recommended a root canal procedure. "It's not like you wake up and go, 'Yay, I'm going to have my root canal today!'" he joked. "But once it's done, you couldn't be happier because the pain is gone and you're just smiling because you're no longer in pain!"
Alfonso's experience echoes that of many other people. The root canal procedure is designed to save an infected tooth that otherwise would probably be lost. The infection may start when harmful bacteria from the mouth create a small hole (called a cavity) in the tooth's surface. If left untreated, the decay bacteria continue to eat away at the tooth's structure. Eventually, they can reach the soft pulp tissue, which extends through branching spaces deep inside the tooth called root canals.
Once infection gets a foothold there, it's time for root canal treatment! In this procedure, the area is first numbed; next, a small hole is made in the tooth to give access to the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The diseased tissue is then carefully removed with tiny instruments, and the canals are disinfected to prevent bacteria from spreading. Finally, the tooth is sealed up to prevent re-infection. Following treatment, a crown (cap) is usually required to restore the tooth's full function and appearance.
Root canal treatment sometimes gets a bad rap from people who are unfamiliar with it, or have come across misinformation on the internet. The truth is, a root canal doesn't cause pain: It relieves pain! The alternatives—having the tooth pulled or leaving the infection untreated—are often much worse.
Having a tooth extracted and replaced can be costly and time consuming…yet a missing tooth that isn't replaced can cause problems for your oral health, nutrition and self-esteem. And an untreated infection doesn't just go away on its own—it continues to smolder in your body, potentially causing serious problems. So if you need a root canal, don't delay!
If you would like additional information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
“That kid is growing like a weed!” Every proud parent likes to hear something like that about their child: It means they’re growing up—and it shows!
As nature takes its course, your child will physically transform into an adult. And that also includes their mouth: By the time they enter early adulthood they will have had two sets of teeth and their jaw structure will have changed dramatically.
All of this happens without you needing to do anything. But there can be bumps along the road like tooth decay or abnormal bite development. For that, you can and should intervene by preventing or at least slowing the formation of such situations.
The best way to do this is to form a partnership with your child’s dentist. Like any partnership, each party contributes something to the relationship.
For you that means first and foremost keeping up your child’s regular oral hygiene practice. This should start even before they begin showing teeth. As an infant you should start wiping their gums after each feeding with a clean wet cloth to hold down bacterial growth. When teeth appear, you can graduate them to brushing and flossing, teaching them along the way to do it for themselves.
You can also boost their dental health by cutting back on sugar consumption, which feeds bacteria. Besides monitoring their snacks, also avoid sending them to bed with a bottle filled with a sugary liquid (including formula, breast milk, or regular milk). And be sure you provide them a nutritious diet filled with tooth-strengthening foods.
On your dentist’s part, they provide regular cleanings that help ensure decay-causing plaque doesn’t build up on the teeth. They’ll also monitor for any signs of decay, and provide treatment when necessary. To further protect them against decay, dentists can apply sealants and topical fluoride to your child’s teeth, especially if they appear to be at high risk. And they’ll also be watching for early signs of a bite problem: Early intervention could prevent or at least minimize this development.
With that kind of solid partnership, your child’s normal dental development can proceed as smoothly as possible. Avoiding the possible pitfalls will help them achieve optimal oral health now and throughout their lives.
Root canal treatments have suffered a bad rap over the years—and undeservedly. While we applaud root canal therapy for the millions of decayed teeth the procedure has saved, the worn-out cliché that it's painful still lingers on.
So, let's set the record straight: a root canal treatment doesn't cause pain, it most often relieves it. Let's look a little closer at what actually happens before, during and after this tooth-saving treatment.
Before: a tooth in crisis. Tooth decay can damage more than a tooth's outer enamel. This aggressive bacterial infection can work its way into a tooth's interior, destroying the nerves and blood vessels in the pulp, before moving on to the roots and supporting bone through the root canals. Untreated, this devastating process can lead to tooth loss. A root canal treatment, however, can stop the invading decay and save the tooth.
During: stopping the disease. The dentist first numbs the tooth and surrounding gum tissues with local anesthetic—the only thing you might normally feel during treatment is a slight pressure. They then drill into the tooth to access the inner pulp and root canals and remove all diseased tissue. Once the interior spaces of the tooth have been disinfected, the dentist then fills the empty pulp chamber and root canals with a pliable filling called gutta percha to prevent future infection.
After: preventing re-infection. With the filling complete, the dentist then seals the access hole. There may be some minor soreness for a few days, similar to the aftermath of a routine filling, which can usually be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen. Sometime later, the dentist will normally finish the treatment with a new crown on the tooth. This accomplishes two things: It helps strengthen the tooth against stress fracturing and it provides another layer of protection against future decay.
Root canal treatments have an exceptional track record for giving diseased teeth a second chance. There's nothing to fear—and everything to gain for your troubled tooth.
If you would like more information on root canal 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 “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
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