After months or even years of radiation or chemotherapy, the words "cancer-free" is music to your ears. Your joy and relief, though, may be tempered by the toll these treatments can take on the rest of your body—including your mouth.
Both of these treatments can destroy healthy tissue along with targeted cancer cells. If the focus has been on the head and neck regions, they could damage the salivary glands to the point that they won't produce adequate saliva flow.
A lack of saliva can have a detrimental effect on your oral health. Saliva buffers and helps lower oral acid levels that soften and erode enamel and increase the likelihood of tooth decay. Saliva also supplies antibodies that fight disease-causing bacteria. Otherwise, bacteria—and the risk for disease—can rapidly grow.
If these or other scenarios occur, you may experience dental damage, even tooth loss. Fortunately, we can restore an injured smile in various ways, including dentures, bridges or dental implants. But we should also attempt to limit the potential damage by taking steps to prevent dental disease during cancer treatment.
The most important of these is to brush and floss daily. Everyone should practice these hygiene tasks to remove disease-causing dental plaque, regardless of their health status. But because some natural disease-fighting mechanisms in the mouth may be disrupted during either radiation or chemotherapy, it's even more important if you're a cancer patient.
It's equally important to maintain as much as possible regular dental visits during cancer treatment. Dental cleanings provided during these visits remove any residual plaque and tartar (hardened plaque), which further lowers your disease risk.
Your dentist can better monitor your overall dental condition during frequent visits and provide as much treatment as you can tolerate. They can also enhance your protection against disease by prescribing antibacterial mouthrinses, fluoride applications or products to boost saliva production.
Some teeth and gum problems may be unavoidable; in that case, you may need post-treatment dental care to restore your oral health as needed. But caring as much for your dental health as you're able during cancer treatment could help you realize a better outcome.
More than one parent has wakened in the middle of the night to an unnerving sound emanating from their child's bedroom. Although it might seem like something from the latest horror flick is romping around in there, all that racket has a down-to-earth cause: teeth grinding.
Teeth grinding is the involuntary habit of gnashing the teeth together when not engaged in normal functions like eating or speaking. It can occur at any time, but frequently with children while they sleep. Adults may also grind their teeth, but it's more prevalent among children.
While stress seems to be the main reason for adult teeth grinding, many health providers believe the habit in children is most often caused by an overreactive response of the neuromuscular system for chewing, which may be immature. Other conditions like asthma, sleep apnea or drug use may also play a role.
Fortunately, there doesn't appear to be any lasting harm from young children grinding their teeth, although they may encounter problems like headaches, earaches or jaw pain in the short term. Most, though, will outgrow the habit and be no worse for wear.
But if it persists beyond childhood, problems can escalate. Adults run the risk of serious cumulative issues like chronic jaw pain, accelerated tooth wear or tooth fracturing. It's similar to finger sucking, a nearly universal habit among young children that poses no real harm unless it persists later in life.
And as with finger sucking, parents should follow a similar strategy of carefully monitoring their child's teeth grinding. If the habit continues into later childhood or adolescence, or noticeable problems like those mentioned previously begin to appear, it may be time to intervene.
Such intervention may initially include diagnosis and treatment for underlying problems like upper airway obstruction, asthma or stress. For short term protection against dental damage, your dentist can also fashion a custom mouthguard for your child to wear while they sleep. Made of pliable plastic, the guard prevents the teeth from making solid contact with each other during a grinding episode.
Outside of some lost sleep, there's little cause for alarm if your child grinds their teeth. But if it seems to go on longer than it should, you can take action to protect their long-term dental health.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding, 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 Children Grind Their Teeth.”
During this year's baseball spring training, Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton got into a row with a steak dinner—and the beefsteak got the better of it. During his meal, the Gold Glove winner cracked a tooth.
Fortunately, he didn't lose it. Buxton's dentist rescued the tooth with a dental procedure that's been around for over a century—a root canal treatment. The dependable root canal is responsible for saving millions of teeth each year.
Dentists turn to root canal treatments for a number of reasons: a permanent tooth's roots are dissolving (a condition called resorption); chronic inflammation of the innermost tooth pulp due to repeated fillings; or a fractured or cracked tooth, like Buxton's, in which the pulp becomes exposed to bacteria.
One of the biggest reasons, though, is advanced tooth decay. Triggered by acid, a by-product of bacteria, a tooth's enamel softens and erodes, allowing decay into the underlying dentin. In its initial stages, we can often treat decay with a filling. But if the decay continues to advance, it can infect the pulp and root canals and eventually reach the bone.
Decay of this magnitude seriously jeopardizes a tooth's survival. But we can still stop it before that point with a root canal. The basic procedure is fairly straightforward. We begin first by drilling a small hole into the tooth to access the inner pulp and root canals. Using special instruments, we then remove all of the infected tissue within the tooth.
After disinfecting the now empty spaces and reshaping the root canals, we fill the tooth with a rubber-like substance called gutta percha. This, along with filling the access hole, seals the tooth's interior from future infection. In most cases, we'll return sometime later and bond a life-like crown to the tooth (as Buxton's dentist did for him) for added protection and support.
You would think such a procedure would get its own ticker tape parade. Unfortunately, there's a cultural apprehension that root canals are painful. But here's the truth—because your tooth and surrounding gums are numbed by local anesthesia, a root canal procedure doesn't hurt. Actually, if your tooth has been throbbing from tooth decay's attack on its nerves, a root canal treatment will alleviate that pain.
After some time on the disabled list, Buxton was back in the lineup in time to hit his longest homer to date at 456 feet on the Twins' Opening Day. You may not have that kind of moment after a root canal, but repairing a bothersome tooth with this important procedure will certainly get you back on your feet again.
If you would like more information about root canal therapy, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
Accidents do happen, especially if you or a family member has an active lifestyle. One such risk, especially for someone playing a contact sport, is having a tooth knocked out.
But as extreme as this injury can be, it doesn't necessarily mean the tooth is lost forever. Gum (or periodontal) cells remaining on the tooth root can regenerate and regain their attachment with the periodontal ligament that holds teeth in place. But you have to act quickly—the longer the tooth is out of the socket, the more likely these cells will dry out and die.
So, by doing the following within 5-20 minutes of the injury (and the earlier the better), that knocked-out tooth has a reasonable chance of survival.
Locate and clean the tooth. Your first priority is to find the missing tooth and clean it of any debris with clean water. Be sure not to touch the root of the tooth and only handle the tooth by the crown (the visible part of a tooth when it's in the mouth).
Insert the root end into the empty socket. Still holding the tooth by the crown, insert the opposite root end into the empty socket. Orient the crown properly, but don't worry about getting it in just right—the follow-up with the dentist will take care of that. You will, however, need to apply some pressure to get it to seat firmly.
Secure the tooth. Place a piece of clean gauze or cloth between the reinserted tooth and its counterpart on the other jaw. Then, have the person bite down on the cloth and hold it. This will help secure the tooth in place while you travel to the dentist.
Seek dental care immediately. It's important to see a dentist immediately to adjust the tooth's position and to possibly splint the tooth to better secure it while it heals. If a dentist isn't available, then visit a local emergency room instead.
Taking these actions on the scene could mean the difference between saving and losing a tooth. But act quickly—the sooner you initiate first aid for a knocked-out tooth, the better its chances for long-term survival.
If you would like more information on what to do during dental emergencies, 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 a Tooth is Knocked Out.”
If you do the right things—keep your teeth clean, see the dentist regularly, and eat a "tooth-friendly" diet—you stand a good chance of having healthy teeth and gums later in life. Even so, after eating well over 75,000 meals by age 70, you can expect some wear from all that biting and chewing.
But there's normal wear—and then there's excessive wear, which can be caused by a variety of factors. When it occurs, accelerated wear can increase your risk of dental disease—and your shorter-toothed smile can make you look older than your actual age.
Here are 3 dental problems that can lead to accelerated tooth wear, and what you can do about them.
Tooth decay. This dental disease can severely weaken a tooth's protective enamel surface, which can in turn increase wear. You can minimize your chances of developing tooth decay by brushing and flossing your teeth daily and undergoing regular dental cleanings. And the sooner you receive treatment for any diagnosed decay, the less likely your enamel will suffer significant damage.
Poor bite. Properly aligned teeth mesh well together while biting and chewing, which minimizes wearing. But misalignments put undue stress on teeth that can lead to accelerated wear. By correcting a bite problem through orthodontics, we can properly align teeth so that they interact with each other normally for less wear.
Teeth grinding. This unconscious habit of gnashing or grinding teeth (often during sleep) can produce abnormally high biting forces. Among other adverse outcomes, this can also increase teeth wearing. If you grind your teeth, there are therapeutic methods that could reduce the habit. You can also obtain a custom night guard to reduce biting forces while you sleep.
If you've already experienced excessive dental wear, there are cosmetic options like porcelain veneers or dental bonding that can restore your smile to a more youthful appearance and help protect your teeth. But if you haven't reached that point, you can make sure you don't by taking care of your teeth and gums and seeking prompt dental treatment for problems leading to accelerated wear.
If you would like more information on teeth wear, 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 “How and Why Teeth Wear.”
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