Despite momentous strides in recent years in the fight against cancer, treatments can still disrupt normal life. Both radiation and chemotherapy have side effects that can cause problems in other areas of health—particularly the teeth and gums.
If you or a loved one are undergoing cancer treatment, it's important to get ahead of any potential side effects it may have on dental health. Here are 4 things that can help protect teeth and gums while undergoing cancer treatment.
Get a preliminary dental exam. Before beginning treatment, patients should have their dentist examine their teeth and gums to establish a baseline for current dental health and to treat any problems that may already exist. However, patients should only undergo dental procedures in which the recovery time can be completed before starting radiation or chemotherapy.
Be meticulous about oral hygiene. Undergoing cancer treatment can increase the risks for developing tooth decay or gum disease. That's why it's important that patients thoroughly brush and floss everyday to reduce bacterial plaque buildup that causes disease. Patients should also reduce sugar in their diets, a prime food source for bacteria, and eat “teeth-friendly” foods filled with minerals like calcium and phosphorous to keep teeth strong.
Keep up regular dental visits. The physical toll that results from cancer treatment often makes it difficult to carry on routine activities. Even so, patients should try to keep up regular dental visits during their treatment. Besides the extra disease prevention offered by dental cleanings, the dentist can also monitor for any changes in oral health and provide treatment if appropriate.
Minimize dry mouth. Undergoing cancer treatment can interfere with saliva production and flow. This can lead to chronic dry mouth and, without the full protection of saliva against dental disease, could increase the risk of tooth decay or gum disease. Patients can minimize dry mouth by drinking more water, using saliva boosters and discussing medication alternatives with their doctor.
It may not be possible to fully avoid harm to your oral health during cancer treatment, and some form of dental restoration may be necessary later. But following these guidelines could minimize the damage and make it easier to regain your dental health afterward.
If you would like more information on dental 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.”
Do you remember when one of your baby teeth began to wiggle? You knew it wouldn't be long before it came out, followed by a little something from the “tooth fairy” under your pillow.
Those were the days! But a loose permanent tooth is something else entirely: Often a sign of advanced periodontal (gum) disease, you may be on the verge of losing the tooth forever.
This sad affair begins with dental plaque, a thin biofilm found on tooth surfaces and the ideal haven for oral bacteria that can trigger a gum infection. You might not notice such an infection in its early stages, other than a few initial signs like gum redness, swelling, or bleeding. If these occur, it's imperative you seek treatment promptly.
Without treatment, the infection can spread below the gum line, weakening gum attachments to teeth (which actually hold teeth in place) and eventually doing the same to underlying bone. All of this damage can lead to a tooth becoming loose and eventually falling out.
But it's not inevitable a loose tooth will eventually be lost, though it may require long-term efforts to save it. We may first need to do a bite adjustment, which will often allow a tooth to decrease its mobility. If the mobility has not been reduced enough, we may recommend stabilizing the teeth through splinting: These are techniques used to join the loose tooth to more stable teeth, usually with a thin strip of metal or other dental material.
We'll also need to treat the underlying cause, which in the case of gum disease requires aggressive plaque removal. Our goal is to manually remove all plaque and tartar (calcified plaque) deposits, particularly below the gum line. It may also require surgery to fully access deep pockets of infection. But once we remove the offending plaque, the gums can begin to heal.
The best strategy, though, is to avoid gum disease altogether. You can substantially lower your infection risk by brushing and flossing daily and getting a dental cleaning every six months. Dental visits also allow us to check your gums for any signs of infection that might require prompt action.
A loose tooth for a kid is a cause for celebration. It's the exact opposite for an adult loose tooth. Taking care of your gums with daily hygiene and receiving prompt treatment for any emerging infection could help you avoid it.
If you would like more information on treating gum disease, 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 “When Permanent Teeth Become Loose.”
This year's Carol Burnett Award, presented at the Golden Globes, goes to Ellen DeGeneres for her “outstanding contributions to the television medium on or off the screen.” This is the latest in a long list of honors for the comedienne, talk show host and activist that includes Emmys, Grammys and Teen Choice Awards. And one not quite as well-known: a 2004 “Flossy” award.
DeGeneres received this honor from the National Flossing Council in recognition of her passionate promotion of oral hygiene, particularly flossing. She wrote about its virtues in her 2003 book, The Funny Thing Is…., saying, among other things, “Don't even think for a second that you can get away with not flossing.”
DeGeneres's motivational cheerleading for flossing is helpful and necessary because, well, many of us just don't like doing it. It requires more manual dexterity than its more popular sibling, brushing. And the tendency for the floss to gunk up with plaque residue for some is simply unpleasant.
Mainly, though, many folks think brushing is enough. Not so fast, according to dental professionals. While brushing removes disease-causing bacterial plaque from broad tooth surfaces, it can't effectively get into the spaces between teeth. It takes flossing to clear plaque from these more difficult areas.
But don't fret: There are ways to make flossing an easier—and more pleasant—task.
Ask us for help. As we said before, flossing does take some hand dexterity and coordination to perform. You may also wonder if you're doing it effectively. We can provide training and tips on how to be a more effective flosser at your next visit.
Practice, practice, practice. You probably think nothing of riding a bicycle, and yet it probably took you weeks or months as a kid to become proficient. Similarly, your first attempts at flossing might feel awkward, but you'll improve with practice, so don't give up.
Brush before you floss. Most people floss before brushing, but if you tend to encounter a lot of soft plaque debris that makes flossing “icky” for you, then try brushing first to clear a good portion of it out of the way before you floss. Just be aware, most professionals believe that flossing first is better because it loosens up debris between teeth so the bubbles from the toothpaste can carry it away. But any flossing is better than no flossing!
Try flossing tools. For some people, floss picks, small pre-threaded tools you can use with one hand, seem easier to maneuver than regular floss thread. If you have issues with manual dexterity, an oral irrigator can make the task easier: This handheld device uses a stream of pressurized water to loosen and flush away plaque between teeth.
So, follow Ellen DeGeneres's advice she gave Tulane University graduates during a commencement speech: “Remember to exfoliate, moisturize, exercise…and floss.” The latter, along with brushing, will certainly help keep your teeth and gums healthy.