Posts for: January, 2021
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.”
We all benefit from regular dental care, regardless of our state of oral health. But if you've experienced periodontal (gum) disease, those regular dental visits are even more important in making sure your healed gums stay that way.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection caused by dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles accumulating on tooth surfaces. The infection triggers inflammation in the gums that quickly becomes chronic. That's why people with gum disease have reddened and swollen gums that bleed easily.
The infection can aggressively spread deeper below the gum line, eventually affecting the bone. The combination of weakened gum detachment from the teeth and bone loss may ultimately cause tooth loss. But we can stop the infection by thoroughly removing all plaque and tartar (hardened plaque) from the teeth and gums. As the plaque is removed, the gums respond and begin to heal.
It's possible then even with advanced gum disease to restore health to your teeth and gums. But although the infection has been arrested, it can occur again. In fact, once you've had gum disease, your susceptibility for another infection is much greater. To stay on top of this, you may need to visit the dentist more frequently.
These upgraded visits known as periodontal maintenance (PM) are actually a continuation of your treatment. Depending on the extensiveness of your gum disease, we may need to see you more than the standard twice-a-year visits: Some periodontal patients, for example, may need a visit every two to three months. Again, the state of your gum health will determine how often.
In addition to standard dental cleanings and checkups, PM visits will also include more thorough examination of the teeth and gums, particularly the health of the tooth roots. We'll also check how well you're doing with daily plaque removal and if there are any signs of gum infection. We may also prescribe medication, rinses or topical antibiotics to help control your mouth's levels of bacteria.
A patient's periodontal “maintenance schedule” will depend on their individual condition and needs. The key, though, is to closely monitor gum health for any indications that another infection has set in. By staying alert through dedicated PM, we can stop a new infection before it harms your dental health.
If you would like more information on 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 “Periodontal Cleanings.”
If we were playing word association with the term “oral hygiene,” you'd probably answer “brushing.” And you would be right—brushing cleans tooth surfaces of accumulated bacterial plaque, a thin biofilm most responsible for dental disease.
But brushing is only half of the oral hygiene equation: You also need to remove dental plaque between teeth where brushing can't reach. And, that requires that other practice—flossing.
Unfortunately, brushing is more popular than its hygienic sibling because many people find traditional thread flossing more difficult and messier than brushing. That can make it tempting to skip flossing—but then you're only getting half the benefit of oral hygiene for reducing the risk of tooth decay or gum disease.
There is, however, a way to floss that doesn't involve a roll of thread: oral irrigation. This form of flossing uses a countertop device that directs a pressurized spray of water between teeth through a handheld wand. The directed spray loosens and then flushes away accumulated plaque.
Oral irrigators (also known as water flossers) have been an important tool for decades in dental offices, and have been available for home use since the 1960s. In the last few years, though, the devices have become more compact and easier to use. More importantly, studies have shown they're as effective in removing between-teeth plaque as regular flossing.
These irrigation devices are especially useful for people wearing braces. The attached brackets and wires make it extremely difficult to maneuver flossing thread between teeth. Because of this (as well as similar difficulties in brushing), patients are more susceptible to dental disease while undergoing orthodontic treatment.
But a 2008 study showed that oral irrigators are quite effective for braces wearers in removing between-teeth plaque. It found those who used an irrigator after brushing removed five times the amount of plaque than those that only brushed.
Even if you're not wearing braces, you may still find an oral irrigator to be a useful flossing alternative. Speak with your dentist for recommendations on what to look for in an oral irrigator and tips on how to use it. It could make a positive difference in your dental health.
If you would like more information on how best to keep your teeth and gums clean, 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 “Cleaning Between Your Teeth.”