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.”
Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara had a rough Stanley Cup final against the St. Louis Blues this past June. Not only did the Bruins ultimately lose the championship, but Chara took a deflected puck shot to the face in Game Four that broke his jaw.
With the NHL season now over, the 42-year-old Bruins captain continues to mend from his injury that required extensive treatment. His experience highlights how jaw fractures and related dental damage are an unfortunate hazard in hockey—not only for pros like Chara, but also for an estimated half million U.S. amateurs, many in youth leagues.
Ice hockey isn't the only sport with this injury potential: Basketball, football (now gearing up with summer training) and even baseball players are also at risk. That's why appropriate protective gear like helmets and face shields are key to preventing injury.
For any contact sport, that protection should also include a mouthguard to absorb hard contact forces that could damage the mouth, teeth and gums. The best guards (and the most comfortable fit) are custom-made by a dentist based on impressions made of the individual's mouth.
But even with adequate protection, an injury can still happen. Here's what you should do if your child has an injury to their jaw, mouth or teeth.
Recognize signs of a broken jaw. A broken jaw can result in severe pain, swelling, difficulty speaking, numbness in the chin or lower lip or the teeth not seeming to fit together properly. You may also notice bleeding in the mouth, as well as bruising under the tongue or a cut in the ear canal resulting from jawbone movement during the fracture. Get immediate medical attention if you notice any of these signs.
Take quick action for a knocked-out tooth. A tooth knocked completely out of its socket is a severe dental injury. But you may be able to ultimately save the tooth by promptly taking the following steps: (1) find the tooth and pick it up without touching the root end, (2) rinse it off, (3) place it back in its socket with firm pressure, and (4) see a dentist as soon as possible.
Seek dental care. Besides the injuries already mentioned, you should also see a dentist for any moderate to severe trauma to the mouth, teeth and gums. Leading the list: any injury that results in tooth chipping, looseness or movement out of alignment.
Even a top athlete like Zdeno Chara isn't immune to injury. Take steps then to protect your amateur athlete from a dental or facial injury.
If you would like more information about dealing with sports-related dental injuries, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
While teeth often seem to be the main focus of dental care, there’s another part of your mouth that deserves almost as much attention—your gums. Neglect them and you could eventually lose one of those teeth! In recognition of September as National Gum Care Month, we’re doing a little well-deserved bragging about your gums, and why they’re worth a little extra TLC.
Here are four reasons why gums are essential to dental health:
They secure your teeth. Your teeth are held in place by strong collagen fibers called the periodontal ligament. Lying between the teeth and bone, this ligament attaches to both through tiny fibers. Not only does this mechanism anchor the teeth in place, it also allows incremental tooth movement when necessary. Preventing gum disease helps guarantee this ligament stays healthy and attached to the teeth.
They protect your teeth. A tooth’s visible crown is protected from disease and other hazards by an outer layer of ultra-strong enamel. But the root, the part you don’t see, is mainly protected by gum tissues covering it. But if the gums begin to shrink back (recede), most often because of gum disease, parts of the root are then exposed to bacteria and other harmful threats. Teeth protected by healthy gums are less susceptible to these dangers.
They’re linked to your overall health. The chronic inflammation that accompanies gum disease can weaken and damage gum attachment to the teeth. But now there’s research evidence that gum inflammation could also worsen other conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease or arthritis. Reducing gum inflammation through treatment could also make it easier to manage these other inflammatory conditions.
They’re part of a winning smile. If your gums are inflamed, abscessed or recessing your smile will suffer, regardless of how great your teeth look. Treating gum disease by removing the dental plaque and tartar fueling the infection not only restores these vital tissues to health, it could also revitalize your smile. Treatment can be a long, intensive process, but it’s well worth the outcome for your gums—and your smile.
Brushing and flossing each day and seeing your dentist regularly will help keep your teeth and your gums in tip-top shape. And if you notice swollen, reddened or bleeding gums, see your dentist promptly—if it is gum disease, the sooner you have it treated the less damage it can cause.
If you would like more information about best gum care practices, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Gum Recession” and “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
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.”
Calling someone "long in the tooth" is an unflattering way of saying they're getting old. The phrase refers to the effects of gum recession, in which the gums pull away from the teeth and cause them to appear longer. The problem, which makes the teeth vulnerable to disease as well as look unattractive, is a common problem for older people.
The most common cause for gum recession is periodontal (gum) disease. Bacteria and food particles, which make up dental plaque, trigger an infection. The deposits of plaque and calculus (hardened plaque) continue to fuel the infection as it continues to weaken gum tissue attachments.
As a result, the gums begin to lose their attachment to the teeth and pull away, exposing the root areas normally covered by the gums. Unlike the enamel-protected crowns (the parts of teeth you can see), the root is covered by a thin layer of material called cementum.
Although cementum offers less protection than enamel, this normally isn't a problem because the gums also act as a barrier against bacteria and other harsh aspects of the mouth environment. But without gum coverage, the root area becomes vulnerable to disease and is more prone to painful sensitivity.
Because gum disease is the main culprit, you can reduce your chances of gum recession by keeping your teeth clean of plaque through brushing and flossing, and regularly undergoing professional cleanings. If gum disease does occur, it's important to seek treatment as soon as possible: The earlier it's treated the more likely that any recessed gum tissues can regenerate.
If the recession is extensive, however, you may need clinical intervention to assist with its regrowth. This can be done by grafting tissue at the site that then serves as scaffold for new tissue to grow upon. Though effective, these microsurgical techniques are quite complex and involved.
So, if you suspect you have gum disease or recession, see your dentist as soon as possible for a full examination. It may be possible to restore your gums and enhance your smile.
If you would like more information on protecting your gum 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 “Gum Recession.”
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