Posts for category: Oral Health
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.
While mouth pain can certainly get your attention, what exactly hurts may be difficult to identify. It might seem to emanate from a single tooth, or a group of teeth. Then again, it might not be clear whether it's coming from teeth or from the gums.
Still, it's important to pinpoint the cause as much as possible to treat it correctly. One of the main questions we often want to answer is whether the cause originates from within a tooth or without.
In the first case, tooth decay may have entered the pulp at the center of the tooth. The pulp contains nerve bundles that can come under attack from decay and transmit pain signals. Incidentally, if the pain suddenly goes away, it may simply mean the nerves have died and not the infection.
The decay can also spread into the root canals leading to the root and supporting bone, and then make the jump into the gum tissues. One possible sign of this is the one mentioned earlier—you can't quite tell if the pain is from the tooth or the surrounding gums.
The root canals could also serve as a transportation medium for infection in the other direction. In that case, gum disease has advanced into the bone tissues around a tooth near its roots. The infection can then cross into the tooth. Again, both a tooth and the gum tissue around it can become diseased.
We have effective treatments for individual occurrences of interior tooth decay or gum disease: The former usually requires a root canal treatment to remove infected tissue and fill and seal the tooth from future infection; we alleviate gum disease by removing the dental plaque causing it and helping the gum tissues to heal. But combined tooth and gum infection scenarios are more difficult to treat, have a poorer prognosis and may require specialists.
To reduce the risk of either tooth decay or gum disease developing into this greater problem, it's best to take action at the first sign of trouble. So, see your dentist as soon as possible when you encounter oral pain or if you notice swollen or bleeding gums. The earlier we treat the initial outbreak of disease, be it tooth decay or gum disease, the better your chances of a successful and happy outcome.
If you would like more information on tooth pain, 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 “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
It's normal to have occasional mouth dryness—that "cotton mouth" feeling when you first wake up or after eating a spicy meal. It soon dissipates, though, leaving you no worse for wear other than the memory of an unpleasant sensation.
For some, though, the unpleasant sensation becomes a chronic condition known as xerostomia, in which their mouth feels dry most of the time. And, it can have far-reaching consequences beyond a mere irritation if not treated.
Among the numerous causes for xerostomia, the most common appears to be over-the-counter and prescription medication. An estimated five hundred medications have dry mouth as a potential side-effect, from antihistamines to antidepressants. And because people over 65 are more likely to take medications, they also have a high occurrence of xerostomia.
A person with certain systemic diseases like Parkinson's Disease or undergoing radiation or chemotherapy for cancers of the head and neck may also encounter dry mouth. For example, an autoimmune disease called Sjögren's syndrome, primarily affecting postmenopausal women, can dry out the mouth's mucous membranes.
Chronic dry mouth isn't normal, and often a sign of a health problem that should be examined. And it can lead to more problems with your oral health. Because dry mouth is most likely a reduction in saliva, which helps buffer decay-causing acid and provides antibodies to fight bacteria, having less of this vital fluid can increase your risk for both tooth decay and gum disease.
So, what can you do if you're plagued by persistent dry mouth? If you suspect your medications may be a factor, talk with your doctor about whether one of them may be the underlying cause for your symptoms. You may be able to switch to an alternate medication without dry mouth side-effects.
You can also increase your water intake during the day, including drinking more before and after taking medication. And there are a number of products like the artificial sweetener xylitol found in gums and candies that can boost saliva. Your dentist may also be able to recommend products that increase saliva.
Above all, be sure you keep up daily brushing and flossing, as well as regular dental cleanings. Taking care of chronic dry mouth could help you avoid dental problems later.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating chronic dry mouth, 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 “Dry Mouth.”
Forty years have passed since the first reported case of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), and it and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes it are still with us. About 1.2 million Americans are currently infected with HIV, with 50,000 new cases diagnosed each year.
The emergence of antiretroviral drugs, though, has made it possible for many with HIV to live normal lives. Even so, the virus can still have a profound effect on health, including the teeth and gums. Because of its effect on the immune system, HIV+ patients are at greater risk for a number of oral conditions, like a fungal infection called candidiasis ("thrush").
Another common problem is chronic dry mouth (xerostomia), caused by a lack of saliva production. Not only does this create an unpleasant mouth feel, but the absence of saliva also increases the risk for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
The latter can be a serious malady among HIV patients, particularly a severe form of gum disease known as Necrotizing Ulcerative Periodontitis (NUP). With NUP, the gums develop ulcerations and an unpleasant odor arising from dead gum tissue.
Besides plaque removal (a regular part of gum disease treatment), NUP may also require antibiotics, antibacterial mouthrinses and pain management. NUP may also be a sign that the immune system has taken a turn for the worse, which could indicate a transition to the AIDS disease. Dentists often refer patients with NUP to a primary care provider for further diagnosis and treatment.
Besides daily brushing and flossing, regular dental cleanings are a necessary part of a HIV+ patient's health maintenance. These visits are also important for monitoring dental health, which, as previously noted, could provide early signs that the infection may be entering a new disease stage.
It's also important for HIV+ patients to see their dentist at the first sign of inflamed, red or bleeding gums, mouth lesions or loose teeth. Early treatment, especially of emerging gum disease, can prevent more serious problems from developing later.
Living with HIV-AIDS isn't easy. But proper health management, including for the teeth and gums, can help make life as normal as possible.
If you would like more information on dental care and HIV-AIDS, 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 “HIV-AIDS & Oral Health.”
While your dentist plays an important role in keeping things inside your mouth healthy, what you do every day often makes the biggest difference. Here are 5 routine things you can do for better oral health.
Brush and floss every day. The most important thing you can do for your teeth and gums is adhere to a daily schedule of brushing and flossing. These twin tasks remove the daily buildup of plaque, a thin bacterial biofilm most responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.
Check your hygiene. There's brushing and flossing—and then there's brushing and flossing effectively. To make sure you're getting the job done, run the tip of your tongue along your teeth after you brush and floss. If it feels smooth, mission accomplished! If it feels rough and gritty, though, try again. You can also use plaque disclosure products occasionally to highlight any missed plaque still on your teeth.
Say no to sugar. Chances are you love sugar—and so do the disease-causing bacteria in your mouth. As they feed on sugar, they multiply and produce acid, which in high levels can erode tooth enamel and lead to tooth decay. Limiting sugar in your diet reduces oral bacteria and the acid they produce, and thus lowers your risk for disease.
Drink plenty of water. Saliva plays an important role in oral health: It helps fight off bacteria, neutralizes acid and re-mineralizes tooth enamel. But it can't do those things if there's not enough of it. So, if your mouth consistently feels dry, drink more water to give your body what it needs to make saliva. Drinking water also washes away food particles that could become plaque and lowers your mouth's acidity.
Maintain your dental appliances. You can extend the life of dentures, retainers or other types of dental appliances by cleaning and maintaining them. You should clean your appliance regularly using regular hand soap or a designated cleaner (not toothpaste, which can be too abrasive). Unless otherwise directed by your dentist, take them out at night and be sure to store them where kids or pets can't get to them.
If you would like more information on best dental care practices, 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 “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”