After months or even years of radiation or chemotherapy, the words "cancer-free" is music to your ears. Your joy and relief, though, may be tempered by the toll these treatments can take on the rest of your body—including your mouth.
Both of these treatments can destroy healthy tissue along with targeted cancer cells. If the focus has been on the head and neck regions, they could damage the salivary glands to the point that they won't produce adequate saliva flow.
A lack of saliva can have a detrimental effect on your oral health. Saliva buffers and helps lower oral acid levels that soften and erode enamel and increase the likelihood of tooth decay. Saliva also supplies antibodies that fight disease-causing bacteria. Otherwise, bacteria—and the risk for disease—can rapidly grow.
If these or other scenarios occur, you may experience dental damage, even tooth loss. Fortunately, we can restore an injured smile in various ways, including dentures, bridges or dental implants. But we should also attempt to limit the potential damage by taking steps to prevent dental disease during cancer treatment.
The most important of these is to brush and floss daily. Everyone should practice these hygiene tasks to remove disease-causing dental plaque, regardless of their health status. But because some natural disease-fighting mechanisms in the mouth may be disrupted during either radiation or chemotherapy, it's even more important if you're a cancer patient.
It's equally important to maintain as much as possible regular dental visits during cancer treatment. Dental cleanings provided during these visits remove any residual plaque and tartar (hardened plaque), which further lowers your disease risk.
Your dentist can better monitor your overall dental condition during frequent visits and provide as much treatment as you can tolerate. They can also enhance your protection against disease by prescribing antibacterial mouthrinses, fluoride applications or products to boost saliva production.
Some teeth and gum problems may be unavoidable; in that case, you may need post-treatment dental care to restore your oral health as needed. But caring as much for your dental health as you're able during cancer treatment could help you realize a better outcome.
Our primary aim as dentists is to preserve teeth. There are times, however, when preserving a tooth is no longer worth the effort and we must recommend removing it. Fortunately, extracted teeth can be replaced with a functional and attractive restoration.
Today's top tooth-replacement option is the dental implant. Composed of a titanium metal post imbedded into the jawbone, a single dental implant can replace an individual tooth or a series of implants can support other restorations for multiple teeth. Besides being incredibly life-like, dental implants are highly durable and can last for decades.
But dental implants aren't an optimal choice for everyone. Their cost often matches their status as the premier tooth replacement method. And because they require a minimum amount of bone for proper implantation, they're not always feasible for patients with extensive bone loss.
But even if dental implants aren't right for you, and you want a fixed restoration rather than dentures, you still have options. What's more, they've been around for decades!
One is a bonded crown, which works particularly well for a tooth excessively damaged by decay, excessive wear or fractures. After removing all of the damaged portions and shaping the remaining tooth, we cement a life-like crown, custom created for that particular tooth, over the remaining structure.
Besides improving appearance, a crown also protects the tooth and restores its function. One thing to remember, though, is although the crown itself is impervious to disease, the remainder of the natural tooth isn't. It's important then to brush and floss around crowned teeth like any other tooth and see a dentist regularly for cleanings.
Dental bridges are a fixed solution for extracted teeth. It's composed of prosthetic teeth to replace those missing bonded together with supporting crowns on both ends. These crowned teeth are known as abutments, and, depending on how many teeth are being replaced, we may need to increase the number of abutments to support the bridge.
Although durable, crowns or bridges typically don't match the longevity of an implant. And, implants don't require the permanent alteration of support teeth as is necessary with a bridge. But when the choice of implants isn't on the table, these traditional restorations can be an effective dental solution.
If you would like more information on crown or bridge restorations, 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 “Crowns & Bridgework.”
You've probably heard your dentist say more than once to cut back on sweets. That's good advice not only for keeping your teeth healthy, but your whole body as well.
As a carbohydrate, a macronutrient that helps supply energy to the body's cells, sugar is prevalent naturally in many foods, particularly fruits and dairy. The form of which we're most concerned, though, is refined sugar added to candy, pastries and other processed foods.
Believe it or not, three out of four of the 600,000 food items on supermarket shelves contain refined sugar, often hiding under names like "high fructose corn syrup" or "evaporated cane syrup." So-called healthy foods with labels like "low fat" or "diet" have added sugar and chemicals to replace the taste of fat they've removed.
But perhaps the biggest sugar sources in the average U.S. diet are sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks. With the added volume of sugar in processed foods, the growing consumption of sweetened beverages has pushed the average American's sugar intake to nearly 20 teaspoons a day—more than three times the recommended daily allowance.
And right along with the increased consumption of sugar, cases of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other systemic diseases have likewise risen. And, yes, preventable tooth decay continues to be a problem, especially in children, with sugar a major contributing factor in the prevalence of cavities.
So, what can you do to keep your daily sugar intake within healthy bounds?
- Check ingredient labels on packaged food for added sugar, chemicals or preservatives. If it contains sugar or "scientific"-sounding ingredients, leave it on the shelf.
- Be wary of health claims on food packaging. "Low fat," for example, is usually an indicator of added sugar.
- Drink water or unsweetened beverages instead of sodas, sports drinks or even juices. Doing so will vastly lower your daily intake of sugar.
A healthy diet with much less sugar and regular exercise will help you stay healthy. And with a lower risk for tooth decay, your teeth will also reap the benefits.
If you would like more information on the effects of sugar on your oral and general health, 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 “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”
Kill Bill fans have been pressing for a third installment of the stylized revenge tale since Kill Bill, Volume 2 hit the theaters in 2004. Finally, filmmaker Quentin Tarantino is talking about the long-awaited Volume 3 as if it might soon become a reality. The third movie in the franchise would most likely focus on the now-grown daughter of the character played by Vivica A. Fox in the first two. Vivica recently made known that should Kill Bill, Volume 3 go into production, she thinks 24-year-old actress and singer Zendaya would be perfect for the role.
Although Zendaya is a few inches taller than Vivica, the two women have a few things in common. Besides being talented movie and television actresses who have won awards for their roles, they both have camera-ready smiles. And both Vivica and Zendaya can thank their dentists for helping their smiles be their best.
In 2016, Vivica told Dear Doctor magazine that her smile needed a boost, so she opted for dental veneers to correct gaps between her teeth—and she's very happy with them. “I love my veneers!” she exclaimed. Zendaya also had help in achieving her Hollywood-perfect smile. In 2011, early in her career on the Disney channel, she wore clear orthodontic aligners to straighten her teeth. To further perfect her smile, she visited her dentist for professional teeth whitening in 2016, inviting a film crew along to show how easy and effective in-office tooth whitening is.
But you don't have to be a celebrity to enjoy smile-enhancing dental treatments. They are great options for anyone who wants to improve the look of their smile.
Teeth whitening. If your teeth are looking yellowed, in-office whitening can make them up to 10 shades brighter in one visit! Some people prefer professional at-home whitening kits, which produce great results more gradually.
Bonding or veneers. For small chips and cracks, cosmetic bonding can cover flaws by adding layers of a tooth-colored material over the tooth. For bigger flaws, heavy discoloration or gaps between teeth as Vivica had, dental veneers may be the answer. These custom-made thin porcelain shells cover the front-facing surface of the tooth, hiding imperfections to give anyone a Hollywood smile.
Orthodontics. Crooked teeth can detract from the look of a smile. While traditional braces are an option, many people with mild to moderate alignment issues find removable clear aligners the perfect way to get the smile they desire with minimal impact on their daily activities. Clear aligners are very subtle and can be removed for eating and cleaning as well as for special occasions—or for filming scenes, as Zendaya knows.
Contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation to see if professional teeth whitening, cosmetic bonding or veneers, orthodontics, or another dental treatment could enhance your smile. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Important Teeth Whitening Questions Answered” and “How Your Dentist Can Help You Look Younger.”
We Americans spend billions on oral hygiene products each year, primarily to fight tooth decay and gum disease. But there's also a secondary motive—to freshen our breath. Our obsession with our breath's olfactory quality has even given rise to National Fresh Breath Day on August 6.
Bad breath is usually not a serious health issue, but it can be a big deal in other respects. In a recent Match.com survey, more than a third of its 5,000 respondents said fresh breath was their top concern during a date.
Romance aside, bad breath can also adversely affect other social and career relationships. Given that, it's no wonder we buy mints and mouthwashes by the ton. Unfortunately, much of what people purchase only masks breath odor without addressing the underlying cause.
While serious conditions like diabetes, liver disease or cancer can give rise to it, the primary source of bad breath is oral bacteria. Many of the hundreds of bacterial strains inhabiting our mouths generate volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) with a smell akin to rotten eggs or decaying animal or vegetable matter. The longer these bacteria remain in the mouth, the more VSCs and their unpleasant odors they create.
Bacteria mainly thrive in a thin film of food particles known as dental plaque. It can build up quickly on tooth and gum surfaces, particularly with ineffective or non-existent oral hygiene. Dental plaque also causes tooth decay or gum disease, which may also contribute to unpleasant mouth odors.
Chronic dry mouth, in which the body isn't producing enough saliva, also encourages bacterial growth. Among its many functions, saliva's antibacterial compounds reduce bacterial populations. Without sufficient saliva, though, VSC-producing bacteria can run amok.
There's nothing wrong with swishing some mouthwash or popping a breath mint before a big meeting. But if you really want to alleviate bad breath, it's better to take direct action against the oral bacteria causing it.
The best thing you can do is maintain a daily regimen of brushing and flossing to remove dental plaque. This should also include cleaning the top surface of your tongue, which can be a prime hiding place for bacteria, particularly at the back of the tongue. You can simply brush your tongue with your toothbrush or use a special tongue scraper.
You should also keep up regular dental visits, which include cleanings to remove any residual plaque and tartar (hardened plaque). You should also see the dentist to treat any occurring dental diseases or conditions, including chronic dry mouth.
Fresh breath has everything to do with a clean, healthy mouth. Keeping it so can help you avoid those embarrassing odors.
If you would like more information about how to better keep your breath fresh, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bad Breath: More Than Just Embarrassing.”
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