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.”
Chewing tobacco is a known cause of oral cancer, yet many a Major League Baseball player has been seen walking onto the field with a round tin visibly poking out of his back pocket. That was before this year. Recognizing the influence big-leaguers have on their young fans, MLB players agreed to a new contract that limits their use of chewing tobacco and their ability to carry it around their fans. The 2012 season is the first to be played under the new rules, which were championed by Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.
One player who used smokeless tobacco heavily is Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. The former Padres slugger earlier this year endured 14 hours of surgery to remove a cancerous growth from the inside of his right cheek and graft a nerve from his shoulder to replace a facial nerve damaged by the tumor. This was Gwynn's second cancer surgery in less than two years.
When it comes to oral cancer, the importance of early detection can't be stressed enough. Unfortunately, this form of cancer is not usually detected until a late stage so the overall survival rate is poor, with only 58% surviving five years after treatment. Yet when oral cancer is detected while a lesion is small, survival rate exceeds 80%. That's why an oral cancer screening is always part of your dental check-up or regular cleaning appointment at this office.
During this screening we will examine your face, neck, lips, mouth, tongue and the back of your throat for any suspicious lesions (sores or ulcers) or lumps. Of course, if you notice any unusual lesions, or color changes (white or red patches), anywhere in your mouth that do not heal within two-three weeks, please come in to see us as soon as possible. And if you need help kicking a tobacco habit, we can advise you on how to get it.
If you would like more information about oral cancer, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
Chewing tobacco is as much a part of our sports culture as the national anthem. What once began as an early 20th Century baseball player method for keeping their mouths moist on dusty fields has evolved into a virtual rite of passage for many young athletes.
But the persona of “cool” surrounding smokeless tobacco hides numerous health threats — including disfigurement and death. What isn’t as widely recognized is the degree to which chewing tobacco can adversely affect your teeth, mouth and gums.
Need more reasons to quit? Here are 4 oral health reasons why you should spit out smokeless tobacco for good.
Bad breath and teeth staining. Chewing tobacco is a prime cause of bad breath; it can also stain your teeth, leaving your smile dull and dingy, as well as unattractive from the unsightly bits of tobacco between your teeth. While these may seem like superficial reasons for quitting, a less-than-attractive smile can also have an impact on your self-confidence and adversely affect your social relationships.
The effects of nicotine. Nicotine, the active ingredient in all tobacco, absorbs into your oral tissues and causes a reduction in blood flow to them. This reduced blood flow inhibits the delivery of antibodies to areas of infection in your mouth. This can cause…
Greater susceptibility to dental disease. Tooth decay and gum disease both originate primarily from bacterial plaque that builds up on tooth surfaces (the result of poor oral hygiene). The use of any form of tobacco, but particularly smokeless, dramatically increases your risk of developing these diseases and can make treatment more difficult.
Higher risk of oral cancer. Besides nicotine, scientists have found more than 30 chemicals in tobacco known to cause cancer. While oral cancer constitutes only a small portion of all types of cancer, the occurrence is especially high among smokeless tobacco users. And because oral cancer is difficult to diagnose in its early stages, it has a poor survival rate compared with other cancers — only 58% after five years.
The good news is, you or someone you love can quit this dangerous habit — and we can help. Make an appointment today to learn how to send your chewing tobacco habit to the showers.
If you would like more information on the effects of chewing tobacco on general and oral 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 “Chewing Tobacco.”
Chewing tobacco, especially among young athletes, is considered fashionable — the “cool” thing to do. Many erroneously think it’s a safe alternative to smoke tobacco — it is, in fact, the source of numerous health problems that could ultimately lead to disfigurement or even death.
Chewing or dipping tobacco is especially linked with the sport of baseball. Its traditions in baseball go back to the late Nineteenth Century when players chewed to keep their mouths moist on dusty fields. The habit hit its greatest stride after the surgeon general’s warning on cigarettes in the late 1950s. Now, players wishing to emulate their major league heroes are prone to take up chewing tobacco at an early age.
But the habit comes with a price tag. Individuals who chew tobacco are more susceptible to oral problems like bad breath, mouth dryness, or tooth decay and gum disease. Users also increase their risk for sexual dysfunction, cardiopulmonary disease (including heart attack and stroke) and, most notably, oral cancer.
Derived from the same plant, chewing and smoke tobacco share a common trait — they both contain the highly addictive drug nicotine. Either type of user becomes addictive to the nicotine in the tobacco; and like smoking, a chewing habit can be very difficult to stop.
Fortunately, many of the same treatments and techniques for quitting smoking can also be useful to break a chewing habit. Nicotine replacement treatments like Zyban or Chantix have been shown effective with tobacco chewing habits. Substituting the activity with gum chewing (non-nicotine, and with the sweetener Xylitol), or even an herbal dip can also be helpful.
Like other difficult processes, it’s best not to try to quit on your own. You should begin your efforts to quit with a consultation with your doctor or dentist — they will be able to prescribe cessation medications and provide other suggestions for quitting. You may also find it helpful to visit a behavioral health counselor or attend a tobacco cessation support group.
Rather than just one approach, successful quitting usually works best with a combination of techniques or treatments, and perhaps a little trial and error. The important thing is not to give up: the improvements to your dental health — and life — are worth it.
If you would like more information on quitting chewing tobacco, 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 “Quitting Chewing Tobacco.”
Actor Michael Douglas shocked TV audiences across the country when he announced on the David Letterman Show in 2010 that he has stage IV oral cancer. Fortunately, the cancer had not spread and his radiation and chemotherapy treatments were successful. This year, Douglas teamed up with the Oral Cancer Foundation to warn others about the dangers of the disease and the importance of early detection. In particular, he wants younger people to know that even if they don't smoke and drink a lot, as he admitted to Letterman that he did, they are still at risk.
As Douglas states in a PSA he made with the foundation, “the fastest growing segment of the people developing oral cancers are young, non smokers.” That's due to a strain of the Human Papilloma Virus known as HPV16 that can be transmitted through oral sex. So it's important to avoid risky sexual behaviors and to be screened regularly for this devastating disease that claims one life every hour in the U.S., according to the Oral Cancer Foundation.
An oral cancer screening is a simple visual and tactile exam done right here at the dental office. We will feel your neck for lumps and inspect your lips and all inside surfaces of the mouth, including the back of your throat, for any suspicious signs. If any are found, a biopsy (laboratory analysis of a tissue sample) can be ordered.
Most oral cancers are “squamous” (small scale-shaped) cell carcinomas that occur in the lining of the mouth and are often preceded by recognizable changes (lesions) of the oral membranes. White or red patches begin to form in the pre-cancerous stage, and as the cancer develops, a non-healing ulcer may appear. If you notice any such changes in your mouth, please let us know.
Michael Douglas ends his PSA with the following plea: “So please, the next time you visit your dentist or your medical doctor, ask for this simple screening. Finding oral cancer in its earliest stages may save your life.” We agree, which is why we always perform this screening during your regular dental check-up. If it's been a while since your last appointment, please come in and see us.
If you would like more information about oral cancer, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about the disease in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”