Cancer treatment can consume all of your focus to the exclusion of other health issues. But these other issues still need attention, especially how treating cancer could affect other parts of your body. That definitely includes your teeth and gums.
Treatments like radiation or chemotherapy eradicate cancer cells disrupting their growth. Unfortunately, they may do the same to benign cells — “collateral damage,” so to speak. This could cause a ripple effect throughout the body, including in the mouth. Radiation, for example, could damage the salivary glands and result in reduced salivary flow. Because saliva neutralizes acid and diminishes bacterial growth, your risk for tooth decay as well as periodontal (gum) disease could increase.
While you may be able to recover from reduced salivary flow after treatment, your health could suffer in the meantime, even to the point of tooth and bone loss. Fortunately, there are some things we can do before and during your treatment.
If you can, have any necessary dental work performed well before you begin cancer treatment. You’ll be more resistant to side effects if you can start treatment with as healthy a mouth as possible.
Keep up your regular dental visits if at all possible, or see us if you begin seeing signs of dental disease. By staying on schedule, we’ll have a better chance of detecting and treating problems before they advance too far; we may also be able to provide preventive measures like topical fluoride applications to help keep your teeth resistant to disease. If you need more extensive treatment like tooth extraction or surgery we may need to coordinate with your cancer treatment provider.
Above all, continue to practice daily brushing and flossing to remove plaque, the main cause of dental disease. Drink plenty of water or take substances that boost salivation. And be sure to eat a nutritious diet while also reducing or eliminating tobacco or alcohol from your lifestyle.
Taking these steps will help protect your teeth and gums during cancer treatment. As a result, you have a better chance for maintaining your dental health during this critical time in your life.
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.”
Dental veneers—thin, life-like layers of porcelain bonded to teeth—can turn a so-so smile into a beautiful one. But most veneers have a distinct drawback: To make them look as natural as possible, the teeth they're bonded with must have some of their surface enamel removed.
Even though they're 1 millimeter or less in thickness, veneers on an unprepared tooth can look bulky. Removing some of the surface enamel remedies this, but doing so permanently alters the tooth. The tooth will need a veneer or some other protective restoration from then on.
Now, though, there's an alternative veneer available for many dental patients. Known as No-Prep or Minimal-Prep, these new veneers are often as thin as a contact lens.
These new types of veneers can often be placed directly on the teeth just above the gum line without any enamel removal and look natural. At the most, the enamel beneath them may need reshaping with an abrasive tool. And, unlike traditional veneers with tooth alteration, these low-prep veneers can often be applied without anesthesia, and in as few as two appointments.
No- or Minimal-Preps are better suited for certain kinds of patients: those with small teeth or teeth that appear small due to larger mouth features; worn teeth from aging or teeth grinding or with small gaps; narrow smiles where the side teeth aren't as visible; and teeth that are slightly misshapen or with minor staining.
On the other hand, patients with oversized teeth or front teeth that jut forward may still encounter problems with an unnatural, bulky appearance even with ultra-thin veneers. The latter situation can often be corrected with orthodontic treatment first to realign the teeth to their proper positions. Once the bite is corrected, no-prep veneers may then become a viable option.
If you'd like to consider these minimal preparation veneers, see your dentist for an examination. The exam results will help determine what type of veneer solution is right for you. And whether you go with traditional or No-Prep veneers, the change in your smile can be amazing.
If you would like more information on porcelain veneers without enamel removal, 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 “No-Prep Porcelain Veneers.”
Tara Lipinski loves to smile. And for good reason: The Olympic-gold medalist has enjoyed a spectacular career in ladies' figure skating. Besides also winning gold in the U.S. Nationals and the Grand Prix Final, in 1997 Lipinski became the youngest skater ever to win a World Figure Skating title. Now a sports commentator and television producer, Lipinski still loves to show her smile—and counts it as one of her most important assets. She also knows the importance of protecting her smile with daily hygiene habits and regular dental care.
Our teeth endure a lot over our lifetime. Tough as they are, though, they're still vulnerable to disease, trauma and the effects of aging. To protect them, it's essential that we brush and floss every day to remove bacterial plaque—that thin accumulating film on teeth most responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.
To keep her smile in top shape and reduce her chances of dental disease, Lipinski flosses and brushes daily, the latter at least twice a day. She also uses a tongue scraper, a small handheld device about the size of a toothbrush, to remove odor-causing bacteria and debris from the tongue.
Lipinski is also diligent about visiting the dentist for professional cleanings and checkups at least twice a year because even a dedicated brusher and flosser like her can still miss dental plaque that can then harden into tartar. Dental hygienists have the training and tools to clear away any lingering plaque and tartar that could increase your disease risk. It's also a good time for the dentist to check your teeth and gums for any developing problems.
The high pressure world of competitive figure skating and now her media career may also have contributed to another threat to Lipinski's smile: a teeth-grinding habit. Teeth grinding is the unconscious action—often while asleep—of clenching the jaws together and producing abnormally high biting forces. Often a result of chronic stress, teeth grinding can accelerate tooth wear and damage the gum ligaments attached to teeth. To help minimize these effects, Lipinski's dentist created a custom mouthguard to wear at night. The slick plastic surface of the guard prevents the teeth from generating any damaging biting forces when they clench together.
The importance of an attractive smile isn't unique to celebrities and media stars like Tara Lipinski. A great smile breeds confidence for anyone—and it can enhance your career, family and social relationships. Protect this invaluable asset with daily oral hygiene, regular dental visits and prompt treatment for disease or trauma.
We all need a good night's sleep, both in quantity and quality. That's why the Better Sleep Council promotes Better Sleep Month every May with helpful tips on making sure you're not only getting enough sleep, but that it's also restful and therapeutic. The latter is crucial, especially if you have one problem that can diminish sleep quality: nocturnal teeth grinding.
Teeth grinding is the involuntary movement of the jaws outside of normal functioning like eating or speaking. You unconsciously grind teeth against teeth, increasing the pressure of biting forces beyond their normal range. It can occur while awake, but it is more common during sleep.
The habit is fairly widespread in children, thought to result from an immature chewing mechanism. Children normally outgrow the habit, and most healthcare providers don't consider it a major concern.
But teeth grinding can also carry over or arise in adulthood, fueled in large part by stress. It then becomes concerning: Chronic teeth grinding can accelerate normal age-related tooth wear and weaken or damage teeth or dental work. It may also contribute to jaw joint pain and dysfunction related to temporomandibular disorders (TMD).
If you notice frequent jaw tenderness or pain, or a family member says they've heard you grind your teeth at night, you should see us for a full examination. If you are diagnosed with teeth grinding, we can consider different means to bring it under control, depending on your case's severity and underlying causes.
Here are some things you can do:
Alter lifestyle habits. Alcohol and tobacco use have been associated with teeth grinding. To reduce episodes of nighttime teeth grinding, consider modifying (or, as with tobacco, stopping) your use of these and related substances. Altering your lifestyle in this way will likely also improve your overall health.
Manage stress. Teeth grinding can be a way the body “lets off steam” from the accumulated stress of difficult life situations. You may be able to reduce it through better stress management. Learn and practice stress reduction techniques like meditation or other forms of relaxation. You may also find counseling, biofeedback or group therapy beneficial.
Seek dental solutions. In severe cases, there are possible dental solutions to reducing the biting forces generated by teeth grinding. One way is to adjust the bite by removing some of the structure from teeth that may be more prominent than others. We may also be able to create a bite guard to wear at night that prevents teeth from making solid contact with each other.
These and other techniques can be used individually or together to create a customized treatment plan just for you. Minimizing teeth grinding will help ensure you're getting the most out of your sleep time, while protecting your dental health too.
Long-term dental health is built on a foundation of good hygiene habits instilled at an early age. Consistent, daily hygiene not only makes for healthy teeth and gums but an attractive smile too.
Here are 4 tips for encouraging your child to develop effective oral hygiene habits.
Begin teaching them to brush and floss on their own around age 6. Brushing and flossing are the primary ways to remove bacterial plaque from teeth, the main cause for dental disease. You should begin brushing your child’s teeth when they first appear; around age 6 you can begin encouraging them to brush for themselves and learn to floss.
Promote healthy eating and snacking habits. A nutritious diet is also important for maintaining healthy teeth and gums. Make sure your child is eating a varied, balanced diet of whole foods in appropriate portions. You should limit sugar and other carbohydrates (which accelerate growth of decay-causing bacteria) to mealtimes; offer limited, non-sugary snacks between meals.
Warn older children and teens about practices that are unhealthy for the mouth. As children enter their teen years, they’re under increased pressure from peers to try unhealthy practices. Oral piercings like tongue and lip bolts can increase tooth damage — chipping and wear — and gum recession, infection and bone loss. Tobacco use, both smoke and smokeless, can also cause tooth staining, increase the risk of decay, gum disease and oral cancer. Begin stressing the dangers these practices pose to their general and oral health before they reach puberty.
Practice what you teach. Â Modeling healthy behavior you want your child to learn is just as important as instructing them how to do it. When they’re very young, brushing teeth should be a family affair — allow them to see how you brush your teeth as you help them brush theirs. And, if you’re not sure if your hygiene techniques are worthy of emulation, we’ll be glad to help you improve your effectiveness to pass on to the next generation.
If you would like more information on developing life-long dental habits with your child, 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 to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
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