Posts for: July, 2020
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.
As summer reaches its apex here in the western hemisphere, warmer weather beckons many of us out of doors. And there's plenty of fun to be had, from hiking and camping to frolicking in the pool, so long as you're playing it safe—and that includes with your family's dental health.
As physical activity increases during the summer months, so does the potential for accidents. And our mouths—especially the teeth, gums and jaws—aren't immune: In the blink of an eye an accident could cause a serious oral injury that can reverberate for weeks, months or even years. Not only that, but dental diseases like tooth decay or gum disease don't take the summer off.
So have fun this summer, but take precautions with your family's dental health. Here are a few top things that deserve your focus.
Sports-related injuries. Summer often means outdoor sports like basketball and baseball. Even if you are shooting hoops alone or honing batting and catching skills with family members, accidents can happen, possibly resulting in an injury to the mouth. To guard against this, be sure the athletes in your family wear appropriate protective gear like helmets or mouthguards.
Slips and falls. Moving around outdoors, especially in unfamiliar territory, increases the risk for falls that could injure the mouth. A pool area can be especially hazardous: Hard surfaces that are slippery when wet, for example, are a tooth injury waiting to happen. So, try to eliminate structural hazards around pools or other high-risk areas as much as possible, and insist that everyone adhere to safety rules like “No running.”
Oral hygiene. Although not in the category of an accidental blow or fall, dental disease is still a year-round risk: Your family may be taking a break from routine, but disease-causing oral bacteria don't. So, encourage your family even in the more laid-back summer months to continue to brush and floss every day to minimize the development of tooth decay or gum disease.
Sugary snacks. Summer may also occasion a break from what your family normally eats. As a result, you may be munching more on foods with added sugar. Remember, though, oral bacteria love this particular carbohydrate as much as your family does. More sugar in the mouth means more bacteria and a higher risk of tooth decay. So, choose items like nuts or fresh fruit as much as possible in lieu of sugary treats.
Summer is a great time for relaxing in the open air and building fond family memories. Just be sure to exercise these preventive measures to keep oral accidents or dental disease from ruining the fun.
If you would like more information about dental prevention measures, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry.”
Periodontal (gum) disease often involves more than gum inflammation. The real danger is what this bacterial infection may be doing to tissues beneath the gum line—including tooth roots and supporting bone.
Gum disease can do extensive damage to the forked areas where the roots separate from the main tooth body. If one of these areas, known as a furcation, becomes infected, the associated bone may begin to diminish. And you may not even know it's happening.
Fortunately, we may be able to detect a furcation involvement using x-rays and tactile (touch) probing. The findings from our examination will not only verify a furcation involvement exists, but also how extensive it is according to a formal classification system that dentists use for planning further treatment.
A Class I involvement under this system signifies the beginning of bone loss, usually a slight groove in the bone. Class II signifies two or more millimeters of bone loss. Class III, also called a “through and through,” represents bone loss that extends from one side of the root to the other.
The class of involvement will guide how we treat it. Obviously, the lower the class, the less extensive that treatment will be. That's why regular dental checkups or appointments at the first sign of gum problems are a must.
The first-line treatment for furcation involvements is much the same as for gum disease in general: We manually remove bacterial plaque, the main source of infection, from the root surfaces using hand instruments and ultrasonic equipment. This is often followed by localized antibiotics to further disinfect the area and stymie the further growth of the furcation involvement.
We also want to foster the regrowth of lost tissue, if at all possible. Classes II and III involvements may present a challenge in this regard, ultimately requiring grafting surgery to stimulate tissue regeneration.
The best approach by far is to prevent gum disease, the ultimate cause for a furcation involvement. You can reduce your chances of gum disease by brushing and flossing daily to remove disease-causing plaque. Regular dental cleanings and checkups, at least every six months, help round out this prevention strategy.
A furcation involvement could ultimately endanger a tooth's survival. We can stop that from happening—but we'll have to act promptly to achieve the best results.
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 “What are Furcations?”