As a cancer patient, you know how important radiation and chemotherapy are to overcoming the disease. But these treatments often come at a price to other aspects of your health, including your teeth and gums if the treatment target includes the head or neck regions.
Radiation and chemotherapy are effective because they target and destroy cancer cells. Unfortunately, they may also kill non-cancerous, healthy cells; in the mouth, for example, they can damage the cells in the salivary glands and disrupt their ability to produce adequate saliva flow, leading to xerostomia (dry mouth).
This could seriously affect your teeth’s protective enamel shell. As we eat or drink, our mouth’s pH level can become too acidic. Acid is your enamel’s primary enemy because it causes the minerals in the enamel to soften and dissolve (de-mineralization). Saliva neutralizes acid and replaces much of the enamel’s minerals.
Without adequate saliva flow, the enamel will tend to erode over time. You can further aggravate the situation if you routinely consume acidic foods and drinks, like sipping energy drinks or soda during the day. Once the enamel is gone it can’t be replaced naturally, and the teeth will be in serious danger of tooth decay and eventual loss of function and appearance.
To avoid these consequences you should take steps during cancer treatment to reduce your risk for xerostomia or other unhealthy mouth conditions: limit your consumption of acidic foods and beverages; use mouth rinses to counteract acidity and inhibit bacterial growth; and promote saliva flow through medication.
It may be, though, that enamel erosion and subsequent tooth damage is unavoidable. In this case, you may need to consider restorative options with artificial crowns or other cosmetic enhancements — not only to improve your appearance but also to protect your natural teeth from further damage.
Before considering the latter, you should undergo a complete dental examination to assess your condition and make sure you have adequate bone and gum support, and any dental disease under control. From here, we can go about restoring the attractive smile that may have faded during your battle with cancer.
Your mouth is teeming with bacteria—millions of them. But don't be alarmed: Most are benign or even beneficial. There are, however, some bacteria that cause tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, which can damage your oral health.
These disease-causing bacteria feed and multiply within a thin biofilm of leftover food particles on tooth surfaces called dental plaque. To reduce these bacterial populations—and thus your disease risk—you'll need to keep plaque from building up through daily brushing and flossing.
Now, there's brushing and flossing—and then there's effective brushing and flossing. While both tasks are fairly simple to perform, there are some things you can do to maximize plaque removal.
Regarding the first task, you should brush once or twice a day unless your dentist advises otherwise. And "Easy does it" is the rule: Hard, aggressive scrubbing can damage your gums. A gentle, circular motion using a good quality toothbrush will get the job done. Just be sure to brush all tooth surfaces, including the nooks and crannies along the biting surfaces. On average, a complete brushing session should take about two minutes.
You should also floss at least once a day. To begin with, take about 18" of thread and wrap each end around an index or middle finger. Pulling taut and using your thumbs to help maneuver the thread, ease the floss between teeth. You then wrap it around each tooth side to form a "C" shape and gently slide the floss up and down. Continue on around until you've flossed between each tooth on both jaws.
You can get a rough idea how well you did after each hygiene session by rubbing your tongue against your teeth—they should feel slick and smooth. If you feel any grittiness, some plaque still remains. Your dentist can give you a more precise evaluation of your cleaning effectiveness at your regular dental visits. This is also when they'll clean your teeth of any missed plaque and tartar.
While professional dental cleanings are important, what you do every day to remove plaque is the real game changer for optimum oral health. Becoming a brushing and flossing "ninja" is the best way to keep your healthy smile.
If you would like more information on daily 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 “Daily Oral Hygiene: Easy Habits for Maintaining Oral Health.”
We all experience the occasional bout of bad breath from dry mouth or after eating certain foods. Chronic halitosis, on the other hand, could have an underlying health cause like periodontal (gum) disease, sinus infections or even systemic illnesses like diabetes. Anyone with persistent halitosis should undergo a thorough examination to determine the root cause.
If such an examination rules out a more serious cause, it’s then possible the particular population of bacteria that inhabit your mouth (out of a possible 600 or more strains) and your body’s response makes you more susceptible to halitosis. After feeding on food remnants, dead skin cells or post-nasal drip, certain types of bacteria excrete volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) that give off an odor similar to “rotten eggs.”
In this case, we want to reduce the bacterial population through plaque removal, which in turn reduces the levels of VSCs. Our approach then is effective oral hygiene and perhaps a few cleanings — the basics every person should practice for good oral health — along with a few extra measures specific to chronic halitosis.
This calls for brushing and flossing your teeth daily. This will remove much of the plaque, the main breeding and feeding ground for bacteria, that has accumulated over the preceding twenty-four hours. In some cases, we may also recommend the use of an interproximal brush that is more adept in removing plaque clinging to areas between the teeth.
You may also need to pay special attention in cleaning another oral structure contributing to your bad breath — your tongue. The back of the tongue in particular is a “hideout” for bacteria: relatively dry and poorly cleansed because of its convoluted microscopic structure, bacteria often thrive undisturbed under a continually-forming tongue coating. Simply brushing the tongue may not be enough — you may also need to use a tongue scraper, a dental device that removes this coating. (For more information, see the Dear Doctor article, “Tongue Scraping.”)
Last but not least, visit our office for cleanings and checkups at least twice a year. Professional cleanings remove bacterial plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) you’re unable to reach and remove with daily hygiene measures. Following this and the other steps described above will go a long way toward eliminating your bad breath, as well as enhancing your total oral health.
If you would like more information on treating chronic bad breath, 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 “Bad Breath: More Than Just Embarrassing.”
Magician Michel Grandinetti can levitate a 500-pound motorcycle, melt into a 7-foot-tall wall of solid steel, and make borrowed rings vanish and reappear baked inside bread. Yet the master illusionist admits to being in awe of the magic that dentists perform when it comes to transforming smiles. In fact, he told an interviewer that it’s “way more important magic than walking through a steel wall because you’re affecting people’s health… people’s confidence, and you’re really allowing people to… feel good about themselves.”
Michael speaks from experience. As a teenager, his own smile was enhanced through orthodontic treatment. Considering the career path he chose for himself — performing for multitudes both live and on TV — he calls wearing an orthodontic device (braces) to align his crooked teeth “life-changing.” He relies on his welcoming, slightly mischievous smile to welcome audiences and make the initial human connection.
A beautiful smile is definitely an asset regardless of whether you’re performing for thousands, passing another individual on a sidewalk or even, research suggests, interviewing for a job. Like Michael, however, some of us need a little help creating ours. If something about your teeth or gums is making you self-conscious and preventing you from smiling as broadly as you could be, we have plenty of solutions up our sleeve. Some of the most popular include:
- Tooth Whitening. Professional whitening in the dental office achieves faster results than doing it yourself at home, but either approach can noticeably brighten your smile.
- Bonding. A tooth-colored composite resin can be bonded to a tooth to replace missing tooth structure, such a chip.
- Veneers. This is a hard, thin shell of tooth-colored material bonded to the front surface of a tooth to change its color, shape, size and/or length; mask dental imperfections like stains, cracks, or chips, and compensating for excessive gum tissue.
- Crowns. Sometimes too much of a tooth is lost due to decay or trauma to support a veneer. Instead, capping it with a natural-looking porcelain crown can achieve the same types of improvements. A crown covers the entire tooth replacing more of its natural structure than a veneer does.
If you would like more information about ways in which you can transform your smile, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about the techniques mentioned above by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Whitening,” “Repairing Chipped Teeth,” and “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers.”
One of the key parts to an effective oral disease prevention plan is practicing daily oral hygiene to remove dental plaque. Both brushing and flossing are necessary for cleaning your teeth of this thin biofilm of bacteria and food particles most responsible for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
But as important as they are, these two essential hygiene tasks aren’t the end-all-be-all for lowering your disease risk. For the best protection, you should also visit your dentist at least twice a year for thorough dental cleanings. That’s because plaque you might have missed can turn into something much more difficult to remove: calculus.
Also known as tartar, calculus is hardened deposits of plaque. The term comes from the Latin word meaning “small stone,” an apt description of its texture on tooth surfaces. Although not the same as the branch of mathematics that bears the same name, both derive from the same Latin word: Merchants and traders centuries ago used small stones to “calculate” their various transactions.
Over time soft and pliable dental plaque hardens into calculus, in part due to a reaction with saliva. Because of the difficulty of accessing all tooth surfaces, calculus can form even if you have an effective daily hygiene practice.
Once formed, calculus can adhere to teeth so tenaciously, it’s impossible to remove it with brushing and flossing. But dentists and hygienists can remove calculus safely with special tools called scalers.
And it should be removed or it will continue to foster bacterial growth. This in turn increases the chances for infections that attack the teeth, gums or underlying bone. Keeping it under control will therefore diminish your risk for developing dental disease.
Although there are other factors like heredity that can affect your disease risk, keeping your mouth clean is the number one thing you can do to protect your teeth and gums. A daily hygiene practice and regular dental visits will help ensure plaque and its calcified form calculus won’t be a problem.
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