Posts for: June, 2019
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.
The most important part of dental health maintenance isn’t what your dentist does—it’s what you do every day when you brush and floss your teeth. And all you really need is a multi-tufted, soft bristle toothbrush, toothpaste, a roll of dental floss—plus a little effort from your hands and fingers.
Of course, manual power isn’t your only option—an electric or battery-powered toothbrush is a convenient and, for people with strength or dexterity issues, a necessary way to remove disease-causing plaque from tooth surfaces. You have a similar option with flossing—a water flosser.
Although water flossers (or oral irrigators) have been around since the early 1960s, they’ve become more efficient and less expensive in recent years. A water flosser delivers a pulsating stream of pressurized water between the teeth through a handheld device that resembles a power toothbrush, but with a special tip. The water action loosens plaque and then flushes it away.
While the convenience these devices provide over traditional flossing is a major selling point, they’re also quite beneficial for people with special challenges keeping plaque from accumulating between teeth. People wearing braces or other orthodontic devices, for example, may find it much more difficult to effectively maneuver thread floss around their hardware. Water flossing can be an effective alternative.
But is water flossing a good method for removing between-teeth plaque? If performed properly, yes. A 2008 study, for example, reviewed orthodontic patients who used water flossing compared to those only brushing. The study found that those using water flossing were able to remove five times as much plaque as the non-flossing group.
If you’re considering water flossing over traditional flossing thread, talk with your dental hygienist. He or she can give you advice on purchasing a water flosser, as well as how to use the device for optimum performance. It could be a great and more convenient way to keep plaque from between your teeth and harming your dental health.
If you would like more information on water flossing, 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 “Cleaning between Your Teeth: How Water Flossing can help.”
Unlike our primitive ancestors, our teeth have it relatively easy. Human diets today are much more refined than their counterparts from thousands of years ago. Ancient teeth recovered from those bygone eras bear that out, showing much more wear on average than modern teeth.
Even so, our modern teeth still wear as we age—sometimes at an accelerated rate. But while you can't eliminate wearing entirely, you can take steps to minimize it and preserve your teeth in your later years. Here are 3 things you can do to slow your teeth's wearing process.
Prevent dental disease. Healthy teeth endure quite well even while being subjected to daily biting forces produced when we eat. But teeth weakened by tooth decay are more susceptible to wear. To avoid this, you should practice daily brushing and flossing to remove disease-causing dental plaque. And see your dentist at least twice a year for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
Straighten your bite. A poor bite, where the top and bottom teeth don't fit together properly, isn't just an appearance problem—it could also cause accelerated tooth wear. Having your bite orthodontically corrected not only gives you a new smile, it can also reduce abnormal biting forces that are contributing to wear. And don't let age stop you: except in cases of bone deterioration or other severe dental problems, older adults whose gums are healthy can undergo orthodontics and achieve healthy results.
Seek help for bruxism. The term bruxism refers to any involuntary habit of grinding teeth, which can produce abnormally high biting forces. Over time this can increase tooth wear or weaken teeth to the point of fracture or other severe damage. While bruxism is uncommon in adults, it's still a habit that needs to be addressed if it occurs. The usual culprit is high stress, which can be better managed through therapy or biofeedback. Your dentist can also fashion you a custom guard to wear that will prevent upper and lower teeth from wearing against each other.
If you would like more information on minimizing 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.”