Although cancer treatment has advanced steadily in recent decades, the most used therapies continue to be radiation and chemotherapy to eradicate cancerous cells. And while they often work, both can cause "collateral damage" in healthy tissues near the targeted cells.
This can create a number of indirect consequences for a patient's health, including in the mouth. The salivary glands, for example, can be damaged by radiation treatments aimed at the head or neck. The effect on these glands can interrupt the normal flow of saliva and cause xerostomia or "dry mouth."
Lack of adequate saliva causes more than an unpleasant, sticky mouth feeling. One of saliva's main functions is to neutralize acid that builds up naturally after eating. Without it, high acid levels can cause enamel and root surface erosion and lead to tooth decay.
Cancer treatment can also contribute to gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD). This disease causes stomach acid to bypass the natural tissue barriers of the esophagus and enter the mouth. As with dry mouth, the increased acid level from GERD can be just as devastating to enamel—and the damage will be permanent.
To minimize these effects on your dental health, it's important to take proactive steps before, during and after cancer treatment. If at all possible, have any needed dental work performed before you begin radiation or chemotherapy—it's better to start it with teeth and gums as healthy as possible.
During treatment, try to continue regular dental visits to monitor your oral health and receive any needed preventive or therapeutic treatments. Depending on your condition and the advice of your dentist, you may need to increase your visit frequency during this time. Your dentist can help with boosting your saliva production and strengthening your tooth enamel. But you should also practice daily brushing and flossing, drink plenty of water and seek treatment for any resulting GERD symptoms.
Even with the best efforts, though, your teeth and gums may still incur damage while treating your cancer. Fortunately, there are a wide array of materials and procedures that can effectively restore them to health. So, once your treatments are completed consult with a dentist on your options for improving the health and appearance of your teeth and gums.
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.”
Teeth whitening or bleaching is one of the most affordable and least invasive ways of improving your smile. Although the effect fades with time, whitening can make dull and dingy teeth more attractive in short order.
Teeth whitening is also unique among cosmetic dental procedures in that you can do it yourself at home. While professional bleaching solutions are stronger and capable of greater brightness and longevity, you can still achieve good results with a DIY kit.
If you decide to whiten at home, though, there are a few things to keep mind for a desirable and safe outcome. Here are 3 tips for successful DIY teeth whitening.
Follow the directions. It's not a good idea, both for a successful and safe outcome, to stray away from a kit manufacturer's recommended directions. FDA-approved home kits usually contain 10% or less of carbamide peroxide (one of the more common bleaching agents). That may not seem very strong but it's adequate within the recommended time it remains on your teeth to achieve an effective whitening effect. Exceeding those directions could permanently damage your tooth enamel.
Make sure a home kit will work on your staining. Home whitening kits only affect outer staining on tooth enamel. But dental discoloration can also arise from inside a tooth, often because of trauma, tetracycline use, or as a side effect of a root canal treatment. This kind of internal staining requires a special procedure usually performed by an endodontist to reduce it. So, see your dentist first to make sure your teeth are healthy enough for whitening and that a home kit will work for you.
Get your dentist's advice on home kits. There are a number of whitening applications on the market you can choose, so ask your dentist for recommendations. They can also give you some helpful tips on the whitening process to ensure you'll be safe and successful in your efforts.
Here's a couple of other things to remember to enhance your teeth whitening experience: whether you whiten your teeth at home or with the dentist, be sure you continue to care for your teeth with daily brushing and flossing. And, if you limit your consumption of foods and beverages known to stain teeth, you'll help extend the duration of your brighter smile.
If you would like more information on teeth whitening procedures, 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 “Tooth Whitening Safety Tips.”
Tooth loss is a problem that affects many seniors—and since May is Older Americans Month, this is a good time to talk about it. Did you know that more than a quarter of adults over age 75 have lost all of their natural teeth? This not only affects their quality of life but poses a significant health risk.
According to a study in The Journal of Prosthodontics, significant tooth loss is associated with increased risk for malnutrition—and also for obesity. If this seems like a contradiction, consider that when you have few or no teeth, it’s much easier to eat soft, starchy foods of little nutritional value than it is to eat nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables. If all of your teeth are missing, it’s especially critical to replace them as soon as possible.
There are several ways to replace a full set of missing teeth, including removable dentures, overdentures, and fixed dentures:
Removable dentures are the classic replacement teeth that you put in during the day and take out at night. (However, if you suffer from sleep apnea, research has found that keeping dentures in at night may help keep the airway open, so if you have this condition, be sure to mention it to your doctor and dentist it). Dentures have come a long way in terms of how convincing they look, but they still have some disadvantages: For one thing, they take some getting used to—particularly while eating. Also, wearing removable dentures can slowly wear away the bone that they rest on. As that bone gradually shrinks over time, the dentures cease to fit well and require periodic adjustment (re-lining) or a remake.
Overdentures are removable dentures that attach onto a few strategically placed dental implants, which are small titanium posts placed in the bone beneath your gums. Strong and secure, implants prevent the denture from slipping when you wear it. Implants also slow the rate of bone loss mentioned above, which should allow the denture to fit better over a longer period of time. The ability to maintain hygiene is easier because you can remove them for cleaning.
Fixed implant-supported dentures are designed to stay in your mouth all the time, and are the closest thing to having your natural teeth back. An entire row of fixed (non-removable) replacement teeth can usually be held in place by 4-6 dental implants. Dental implant surgery is an in-office procedure performed with the type of anesthesia that’s right for you. After implants have been placed and have integrated with your jaw bone—generally after a few months—you can enjoy all of your favorite foods again without worry or embarrassment.
If you would like more information about tooth-replacement options, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Overdentures & Fixed Dentures” and “Removable Full Dentures.”
Your teeth are sound and healthy—but appearance-wise, they're nothing to write home about. It's nothing major: a chip, some heavy staining or perhaps a slight gap between the front teeth. But whatever the blemish, it bothers you every time you look in the mirror.
There's an affordable way to improve your smile without a lot of extensive treatment: porcelain veneers. These thin layers of dental porcelain are bonded to the teeth's exterior to mask the blemishes beneath. All you and others can see, though, are beautiful teeth blending seamlessly with the rest of your natural teeth.
Changing your smile with veneers begins with a consultation with your cosmetic dentist. During your visit you'll discuss what you would like to improve and how you would like your smile to appear afterward. It's helpful to take along magazine photos or other images of how you'd like your teeth to look.
After making impressions and getting other necessary measurements, your dentist may then be able to show you what your new veneers will look like. One way is through computer software that superimposes your proposed new look onto a photograph of your face. Your dentist may also be able to create test veneers with acrylic or other dental materials and apply them to your teeth. These aren't your permanent veneers, but they can still give you a realistic view of your future smile.
Once your measurements are on the way to the dental lab to custom create your veneers, your dentist must prepare your teeth for bonding. Although veneers are quite thin, they may still appear bulky when bonded to the teeth. To create a more natural look, you'll probably need some of the enamel layer of your teeth removed to accommodate the extra width. Even though this is a small amount, it will permanently alter your teeth and require some form of restoration from then on.
After your veneers arrive, the dentist will attach them with a translucent cement that will bond them seamlessly to the natural teeth. You and others won't be able to see where the veneer ends and the natural tooth begins. What you will see, though, is a new look for your teeth and a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on porcelain veneers, 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 “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty as Never Before.”
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