Statistically speaking, Americans can expect to enjoy a longer life today than at any time in the past. A recent U.S. government interagency study indicated that our oldest citizens are also generally getting healthier and doing better economically. Yet, along with an increased lifespan comes the possibility that at some future time, you or a loved one may undergo treatment for cancer.
There's good news here too: According to the National Cancer Institute, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, both the rate of cancer incidence and the death rate from the disease have been steadily declining. It's true that cancer treatments may cause a variety of oral health problems. But did you know that there are some measures you can take to minimize the discomfort and possible complications from these lifesaving therapies?
Chemotherapy and radiation, two common treatments, work by attacking cancerous cells. However, they can affect normal cells too — including the cells lining the mouth, and the salivary glands. This sometimes results in mouth sores, a dry mouth, and an increased risk of developing dental diseases like tooth decay.
What should you do if you or someone you love needs cancer treatments? The best outcomes can be obtained by a dose of prevention when possible, and by taking a team approach to the treatment.
Oral side effects may be worse if the mouth isn't healthy prior to cancer treatment. So, if there's time, have necessary dental procedures done before treatment begins. During and after cancer therapy, dental surgery should be limited if possible. The first step is to get a complete dental examination, and to develop a treatment plan. It's vitally important to coordinate any dental treatments with an oncologist (cancer specialist).
There are also things a patient can do to help control unpleasant oral side effects. Removing the bacteria that cause tooth decay is more essential now than ever. In addition to thorough brushing, an antibacterial rinse or fluoride gel may be prescribed. To combat the symptoms of dry mouth, it's important to drink plenty of fluids. Chewing gum with Xylitol, or using a mouth rinse or a prescription medication may also be recommended.
It's essential for those having cancer treatment to understand and follow the recommendations of their dentist and doctor. These include taking steps to reduce the chance of complications, and recognizing the warning signs that may indicate a problem.
If you would like more information about cancer treatment and oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment to discuss your treatment options. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Health During Cancer Treatment.”
Ever wonder just exactly what causes cavities? Once upon a time, “Toothworms” — miniscule, yet relentless pests — were thought to be responsible for this widespread malady. This belief persisted from ancient times through the 17th Century; William Shakespeare even made reference to the baneful beasts in his play Much Ado about Nothing. (“What, sigh for a toothache? [It] is but a humor or a worm.”) Today, however, we know why no one ever observed an honest-to-goodness toothworm: it’s because they’re much too tiny to see with the naked eye.
Actually, it isn’t worms, but much smaller organisms that cause tooth decay. These harmful plaque bacteria (along with many helpful microorganisms) live in the mouth, and build up on surfaces of the teeth when they aren’t cleaned properly. They feed on sugar in the diet, and release substances that erode tooth enamel, which causes small holes called cavities. Cavities, in turn, are what’s responsible for most toothaches.
While we may scoff at old legends, one fact remains: Even today, according to the National Institutes of Health, tooth decay is the number one chronic disease of both children and adults; and it’s almost entirely preventable. We can’t blame it on toothworms — but what can we do about it?
Glad you asked! The best way to avoid decay is through prevention. That means brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, and flossing them every day. It also means eating a balanced diet and avoiding acidic and sugary foods — like soda, some juices, and sweet, sticky snacks. If you do consume these types of foods, limit them to mealtimes; that gives your saliva enough time in between to neutralize the acids naturally. And, of course, make an appointment see us twice a year for a complete check-up and professional cleaning.
If you do begin to notice the symptoms of tooth decay (toothache, for example) it’s important to come in to the dental office right away, so we can treat the problem before it gets worse. Prompt action can often help save a tooth that might otherwise be lost. Besides filling the cavity, we may be also able to recommend ways to help prevent the disease from affecting other teeth. And if you need a more extensive procedure to relieve the problem — such as a root canal — we can make sure you get the appropriate treatment.
We’ve come a long way since the “toothworm” days — but we can still do a lot more to make tooth decay a thing of the past.
If you would like more information about tooth decay and cavity prevention, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Decay — The World’s Oldest & Most Widespread Disease” and “Tooth Decay — How To Assess Your Risk.”
We now have an amazing repertoire in dentistry to restore the look and function of damaged or missing teeth. From tooth-colored crowns to life-like dental implants, we can turn an embarrassing smile into one you’re confident to show the world.
But what if your teeth are visually unappealing but structurally sound? Perhaps they’re slightly irregular or discolored — do you still need the “heavy artillery” in our arsenal of restoration options?
Not at all — dental veneers that provide amazing aesthetic results with minimal tooth preparation may be an appropriate restoration choice for you. As the name implies, veneers are a thin layer of dental material (usually porcelain) that’s permanently bonded to the outside of a tooth. Veneers can be shaped to resemble natural teeth — especially effective for changing the appearance of small or slightly misshapen teeth — and can be customized to match an individual patient’s tooth color.
Veneered teeth require very little preparation compared to other restorations; still, most veneer applications do require some permanent enamel removal so that the applied veneers appear natural. In recent years, however, changes in veneer design and materials have made it possible for some patients to receive veneers without some tooth prep.
If taken care of properly, veneers can last anywhere from seven to twenty years (in some cases, more). While their material composition and the bonding process can withstand normal biting forces, wearers need to keep in mind porcelain is a form of glass — excessive twisting or pressures from excessive grinding habits could cause them to shatter.
And because veneers are made of an inert, non-living material, they can’t adapt to any changes that may occur biologically to your teeth and gums and may need to be updated at some point in the future. The good news is that a loosened veneer can often be repaired.
If you’d like to know if you’re a good candidate for this cost-effective, minimally invasive option, visit us for an examination. Balancing all the factors, porcelain veneers just may be your answer to achieving a better smile.
If you would like more information on porcelain veneers, 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 “Porcelain Veneers.”
Chewing tobacco has a certain cachet among its users, especially young boys and men, who believe using it makes them appear macho or “cool.” They also believe this “smokeless” variety (as it's often marketed by tobacco companies) is safer than cigarettes or cigars.
Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, chewing tobacco is harmful to your health — and especially your oral health. Regular use of these products can lead to severe dental and mouth conditions resulting in disease, disfigurement, or even death.
Like the smoked variety, chewing tobacco infuses its users with nicotine, a chemical stimulant naturally produced by the tobacco plant. The body responds to the stimulant's effect and begins to crave it, leading to addiction.
The problem, though, is the other ingredients in chewing tobacco: more than thirty other substances known to cause various kinds of cancer, including oral. Oral cancer alone is extremely dangerous: many patients suffer partial or complete loss of oral tissue and facial structures, including the tongue, lower jaw or even the face. Some even lose their lives — statistics show that only half of those with oral cancer survive more than five years after diagnosis.
Although cancer may be the most harmful effect of chewing tobacco, it isn't the only one. Researchers have found tobacco users have higher rates of tooth decay and gum disease than non-users. Tobacco also causes cosmetic and hygiene problems, including tooth staining and chronic bad breath.
If you're a tobacco user in any form, and especially chewing or spit tobacco, as your dentist we would advise you to consider quitting the habit. Giving up tobacco will not only improve your oral health and appearance, it may even save your life.
If you would like more information on the dangers of chewing tobacco, 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 “Chewing Tobacco.”
By the time you reach adulthood, roughly 100 trillion microscopic organisms will have taken up residence in and on your body, outnumbering your own cells 10 to 1. Most are bacteria, a domain of the animal kingdom considered synonymous with disease. But only a few of the thousands of bacterial species cause us harm; the rest are either benign or actually beneficial to our health, including in our mouths.
Dentistry pioneered much of our knowledge about bacteria, developing processes used to identify, classify and understand those species inhabiting our mouths. Science as a whole is catching up with the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) begun in 2007. Through HMP, researchers have catalogued and begun to study more than 10,000 bacterial species.
We’re finding that our bodies develop a symbiotic relationship with many of these creatures invisible to the naked eye. During our infancy the bacteria we ingest from birth and breast feeding begin to interact with our body’s immune system, “teaching” it to refrain from attacking friendly organisms that contribute to health and searching and destroying enemy species that cause disease.
We’re also learning that an imbalance with our individual population of bacteria has links with disease. Our digestive system is a prime example: bacteria related to obesity can overpopulate our digestive tract, while malnutrition can create an environment that produces too many bacteria that inhibit digestion of vitamins and other nutrients.
The same microbial imbalance can occur in the mouth. For example, our typical Western diet encourages the growth of bacteria most associated with tooth decay (Streptococcus mutans). We’re also finding that tobacco smoking creates a mouth environment more conducive to the bacteria that cause gum disease. Just by quitting smoking you can alter that environment to encourage growth of health-promoting bacteria and inhibit growth of malevolent species.
The desired outcome of this knowledge is to develop treatments that target disease-causing bacteria without harming those beneficial to us (as often occurs with traditional antibiotics). In dentistry, such possibilities could help stop the spread of tooth decay, gum disease or similar bacterial infections, while fostering a healthier oral environment that prevents disease and protects health.
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