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.
Hannah Bronfman, well-known DJ and founder of the health and beauty website HBFIT.com, took a tumble while biking a few years ago. After the initial pain and bruising subsided, all seemed well—until she started experiencing headaches, fatigue and unexplained weight gain. Her doctors finally located the source—a serious infection emanating from a tooth injured during the accident.
It's easy to think of the human body as a loose confederation of organs and tissues that by and large keep their problems to themselves. But we'd do better to consider the body as an organic whole—and that a seemingly isolated condition may actually disrupt other aspects of our health.
That can be the case with oral infections triggered by tooth decay or gum disease, or from trauma as in Bronfman's case. These infections, which can inflict severe damage on teeth and gums, may also contribute to health issues beyond the mouth. They can even worsen serious, life-threatening conditions like heart disease.
The bacteria that cause both tooth decay and gum disease could be the mechanism for these extended problems. It's possible for bacteria active during an oral infection to migrate to other parts of the body through the bloodstream. If that happens, they can spread infection elsewhere, as it appears happened with Bronfman.
But perhaps the more common way for a dental disease to impact general health is through chronic inflammation. Initially, this defensive response by the body is a good thing—it serves to isolate diseased or injured tissues from healthier tissues. But if it becomes chronic, inflammation can cause its own share of damage.
The inflammation associated with gum disease can lead to weakened gum tissues that lose their attachment to teeth. But clinical research over the last few years also points to another possibility—that periodontal inflammation could worsen the inflammation associated with diseases like heart disease, diabetes or arthritis.
Because of this potential harm not only to your teeth and gums but also to the rest of your body, you shouldn't take an oral injury or infection lightly. If you've had an accident involving your mouth, see your dentist as soon as possible for a complete examination. You should also make an appointment if you notice signs of infection like swollen or bleeding gums.
Prompt dental treatment can help you minimize potential damage to your teeth and gums. It could also protect the rest of your health.
If you would like more information about the effects of dental problems on the rest of the body, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Link Between Heart and Gum Diseases.”
Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) is an umbrella term for a number of chronic jaw problems. These conditions cause recurring pain for 10 to 30 million Americans, especially women of childbearing age.
But even after decades of treatment and research, a full understanding of TMD's underlying causes eludes us. That doesn't mean, however, that we haven't made progress—we have indeed amassed a good deal of knowledge and experience with TMD and how best to treat it.
A recent survey of over a thousand TMD patients helps highlight the current state of affairs about what we know regarding these disorders, and where the future may lie in treatment advances. Here are a few important findings gleaned from that survey.
Possible causes. When asked what they thought triggered their TMD episodes, the top answers from respondents were trauma, stress and teeth clenching habits. This fits in with the consensus among experts, who also include genetic disposition and environmental factors. Most believe that although we haven't pinpointed exact causes, we are over the target.
Links to other disorders. Two-thirds of survey respondents also reported suffering from three or more other pain-related conditions, including fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and chronic headaches. These responses seem to point to possible links between TMD and other pain-related disorders. If this is so, it could spur developments in better diagnostic methods and treatment.
The case against surgery. Surgical procedures have been used in recent years to treat TMD. But in the survey, of those who have undergone surgery only one-third reported any significant relief. In fact, 46% considered themselves worse off. Most providers still recommend a physical joint therapy approach first for TMD: moist heat or ice, massage and exercises and medications to control muscle spasms and pain.
These findings underscore one other important factor—there is no “one size fits all” approach to TMD management. As an individual patient, a custom-developed action plan of therapy, medication, and lifestyle and diet practices is the best way currently to reduce the effects of TMD on your life.
If you would like more information on TMD management and 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 “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions.”
The red and puffy gums that sometimes accompany the onset of periodontal (gum) disease don't always catch your attention. You may not even get any symptoms at all, in fact, until the disease has become well advanced.
That's why regular dental visits are so important for gum health: For while you may not notice anything abnormal about your gums, we have a simple procedure known as periodontal probing that can help diagnose the condition of your gums.
Gum disease is a common bacterial infection that affects millions of people worldwide. It most often begins with plaque, a filmy, bacterial buildup on teeth. These bacteria feed and multiply on the remnant food particles in the film, increasing the chances for an infection.
As it grows—as well as the inflammation the body initiates to fight it—the infection weakens the gum attachment to teeth. This can cause the miniscule gap between gums and teeth at the gum line to widen, forming a void called a periodontal pocket. The deeper and wider the pocket, the more advanced the gum infection.
We may be able to verify the presence of a periodontal pocket by using a long, thin probing instrument with millimeter gradations. We gently insert the probe at various locations around a tooth as far as it will comfortably go. We then record the depth by reading the gradation measures lined up with the top of the gums, as well as observing how snug or loose the probe feels within the gum space.
One to three millimeters signifies a healthy attachment between the tooth and gums—anything more than that usually indicates gum disease. Measurements of 5mm indicates a problem, the higher the number, the more advanced is the periodontal disease.
We use these probe readings and other factors to guide our treatment approach in individual cases of gum disease. With a less-advanced infection we may only need to remove plaque and calculus adhering to the crown and just below the gum line. More advanced gum disease infecting the root area may require surgical access through the gums.
All in all, keeping up with regular dental visits can increase the chances of early diagnosis, when the disease is still in its initial stages. And daily oral hygiene to remove harmful plaque may help you avoid gum disease altogether.
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 “Understanding Periodontal Pockets.”
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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