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.
Confused about which toothpaste to buy? You’re not alone — we’re all regularly confronted with multiple choices when we shop.
But you can simplify your decision-making process by first remembering that toothpaste has one main objective: helping to break down and remove dental plaque when you brush. Plaque is a thin film of bacteria and food particles that if you don’t remove through brushing and flossing could trigger tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Toothpastes contain abrasives and detergents to help make this possible. Abrasives like hydrated silica are gritty substances that work with the mechanical brushing action to loosen plaque. Detergents (usually sodium lauryl sulfate) help loosen and break down particles on your teeth that won’t otherwise dissolve with water alone. The combination of these ingredients and daily brushing action enables you to remove a substantial portion of plaque from your teeth every day.
These ingredients (along with others to retain moisture and bind everything together) are the foundation of any toothpaste. There are other additives, however, that you may also want to consider. The most important is fluoride, a naturally-occurring chemical proven to strengthen enamel against tooth decay. If you’re interested in a brighter smile, you can also look for bleaching agents that may help whiten some enamel staining. And, of course, there are various flavors to suit your taste.
You’ll also want to pay attention to ingredients if you have special concerns. If you have sensitive teeth, your dentist may recommend particular brands that help reduce discomfort. You’ll also want to be on the lookout for ingredients that you may be allergic to like the aforementioned sodium lauryl sulfate or flavors like cinnamon. Be sure to read the ingredients label if you have known issues with certain substances.
And while you’re reading the packaging look for one more thing — the American Dental Association Seal of Approval. This seal means any manufacturer claims for lower occurrences of cavities or other effects by that toothpaste have been independently verified.
It can be overwhelming amid all the product messaging to decide which toothpaste is right for you. But by knowing these basic facts about toothpaste, you can feel more confident choosing the right one to help keep your teeth and gums clean and healthy.
If you would like more information on oral hygiene products, 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 “Toothpaste: What’s in it?”
The term “root canal” is a part of our social lexicon, and not always with a positive meaning. But contrary to its negative reputation, a root canal treatment can make all the difference in your dental health.
Here are 3 things you may not know about this important procedure.
A root canal treatment is a “tooth” saver. Decay deep inside the tooth pulp puts the entire tooth at risk. The infection not only destroys nerves and tissue in the pulp, it has a direct path to the root through tiny passageways known as root canals. By cleaning out this infected tissue, then filling the empty pulp chamber and the root canals with a special filling, the procedure stops the disease from further harm and seals the tooth from future infection. Without it, it’s highly likely the tooth will be lost and other teeth threatened by the infection.
A root canal doesn’t cause pain — it relieves it. The biggest misconception about root canal treatments is their supposed painfulness. That’s just not true, thanks to anesthetic techniques that numb the teeth and gums — and any discomfort afterward is quite manageable with mild anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. The procedure actually stops the real pain, caused by the infection damaging and finally killing the tooth’s nerves, when it stops the infection.
Root canal treatments are even more effective thanks to recent advancements. Not all infected tooth situations are the same: some teeth have smaller offset passageways called accessory canals that grow off a larger root canal that can be quite difficult to detect and access. Missing them can leave the door open for re-infection. In recent years, though, endodontists, specialists in root canal disorders, have improved the way we address these complications using advanced technologies like specialized microscopic equipment and new filling techniques. The result: a lower risk of re-infection and a higher chance of long-term success.
Hopefully, you’ll continue to enjoy good dental health and won’t need a root canal treatment. But if you do, rest assured it won’t be the unpleasant experience you might have thought — and will be a welcomed solution to pain and threatening tooth loss.
If you would like more information on root canal treatments, 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 “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
Basketball isn't a contact sport—right? Maybe once upon a time that was true… but today, not so much. Just ask New York Knicks point guard Dennis Smith Jr. While scrambling for a loose ball in a recent game, Smith's mouth took a hit from an opposing player's elbow—and he came up missing a big part of his front tooth. It's a type of injury that has become common in this fast-paced game.
Research shows that when it comes to dental damage, basketball is a leader in the field. In fact, one study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) found that intercollegiate athletes who play basketball suffered a rate of dental injuries several times higher than those who played baseball, volleyball or track—even football!
Part of the problem is the nature of the game: With ten fast-moving players competing for space on a small court, collisions are bound to occur. Yet football requires even closer and more aggressive contact. Why don't football players suffer as many orofacial (mouth and face) injuries?
The answer is protective gear. While football players are generally required to wear helmets and mouth guards, hoopsters are not. And, with a few notable exceptions (like Golden State Warriors player Stephen Curry), most don't—which is an unfortunate choice.
Yes, modern dentistry offers many different options for a great-looking, long lasting tooth restoration or replacement. Based on each individual's situation, it's certainly possible to restore a damaged tooth via cosmetic bonding, veneers, bridgework, crowns, or dental implants. But depending on what's needed, these treatments may involve considerable time and expense. It's better to prevent dental injuries before they happen—and the best way to do that is with a custom-made mouthguard.
Here at the dental office we can provide a high-quality mouthguard that's fabricated from an exact model of your mouth, so it fits perfectly. Custom-made mouthguards offer effective protection against injury and are the most comfortable to wear; that's vital, because if you don't wear a mouthguard, it's not helping. Those "off-the-rack" or "boil-and-bite" mouthguards just can't offer the same level of comfort and protection as one that's designed and made just for you.
Do mouthguards really work? The same JADA study mentioned above found that when basketball players were required to wear mouthguards, the injury rate was cut by more than half! So if you (or your children) love to play basketball—or baseball—or any sport where there's a danger of orofacial injury—a custom-made mouthguard is a good investment in your smile's future.
If you would like more information about custom-made athletic mouthguards, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry.”
You’re satisfied with your smile appearance except for one thing — your teeth aren’t as white and bright as you wish they could be. So, you’ve decided to do something about their dull yellow color.
You’re also thinking about buying a whitening product you can use yourself rather than a professional application. But you still want the answers to two questions: are home whitening kits safe? And, are they effective?
By and large the answer to the first question is yes — if you use it as directed. The whitening agents in FDA-approved products are in safe proportions to other ingredients and won’t cause any major health issues. That said, if you go beyond the instructed dosage you could damage your teeth, especially your enamel, and cause long-term problems with your dental care.
In addition, if you (or a family member) are still in your early teens, you may want to wait until you’re older. Although most permanent teeth have come in by puberty, their enamel still needs to mature. The chemicals in a whitening kit could be too strong for their under-developed enamel. It’s best to get our advice on whether your teeth are mature enough for whitening.
As to their effectiveness, home whitening kits should perform as their labeling indicates. But there are some differences in effects between a home kit and a professional application.
Although a home kit usually uses the same whitening agents (like carbamide peroxide), its strength is much lower than a professional treatment — about 10% of volume compared to around 30% in clinical solutions. This means it will take much longer to achieve the desired whitening effect that a professional application can in fewer sessions, and with less precision. In addition, home kits are only effective on surface staining of the enamel — discoloration within a tooth requires treatment by a dentist.
You can get satisfactory results from a home whitening kit. But before you make a purchase, consult with us first — we can advise you on what to look for in your purchase, as well as determine if your teeth can benefit from whitening at home.
If you would like more information on teeth whitening, 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 “Tooth Whitening Safety Tips.”
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