If you’re facing cancer treatment, we wish you the best outcome possible. Treating this disease has advanced tremendously in recent decades, but the available options are still often challenging to endure. It will be your primary focus for the foreseeable future.
As a dental provider we also want you to be aware how the two main treatments, chemotherapy and radiation, could adversely affect your teeth and gums, especially if you’re receiving radiation therapy near the head and neck. The aim of cancer treatment is to attack and destroy cancer cells to prevent their growth. Unfortunately, it can also destroy neighboring healthy cells and lead to harmful consequences in different parts of the body, including the mouth.
Salivary glands, for example, are especially vulnerable to damage during cancer treatment. This could create a situation where the mouth no longer produces adequate saliva flow, leading to a condition called xerostomia or dry mouth. Besides a lot of discomfort, restricted saliva flow can also increase your risk of tooth decay and other dental diseases. This is because saliva is the body’s acid neutralizer (acid can erode tooth enamel) and its first line of defense against microbial infection.
To guard against this, it’s important to support salivary flow as much as possible if you experience dry mouth symptoms during treatment (as well as beyond—it’s possible the damage to these glands could be permanent). Since some medications also contribute to dry mouth, you should speak with your physician about the prescriptions you’re taking: if any have dry mouth side effects ask if there’s an alternative drug without these side effects. You should also drink more water during the day and especially when taking medications. And consider substances like xylitol gum that can help boost saliva flow.
Unfortunately, it may not be possible to fully avoid the effects of these treatments on your teeth and gums. So, be sure you keep up daily brushing and flossing and see your dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups. If necessary, there are a number of restoration options to restore your smile after you’ve completed your treatment.
If you’re one of the millions of people all over the world tuning in to the Olympics, you know that just watching the competition in your living room can be a real nail-biter. So imagine what it’s like for Tara Lipinski—the former gold medalist in figure skating who’s currently a primetime commentator for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea. In a recent interview with Dear Doctor magazine, the skating superstar revealed that she wears a custom-made nightguard to protect her smile.
“I grind my teeth pretty badly,” she said, noting that some days are worse than others. “When I can tell the grinding is bad, or my jaw starts to hurt, [then] at night I wear a mouthguard.”
Tara’s hardly alone: It’s estimated that around one in ten adults suffers from bruxism—the dental term for the habitual clenching or grinding of teeth. This condition, which is linked to stress (and several other risk factors), can occur during the daytime or at night—when it may go unnoticed as you sleep. If left untreated, bruxism can lead to headaches and jaw pain, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD), and damage to natural teeth or restorations such as crowns, veneers or fillings.
Fortunately, as Tara as found out, there’s a simple and effective way to help people struggling with the problem of teeth clenching and grinding: We can provide you with a custom-fabricated nightguard to stop bruxism from affecting your health. This device, usually made of high-impact plastic, is created from a model of your actual bite. It fits comfortably over your teeth, and can tooth prevent damage before it occurs.
A nightguard is a very conservative form of treatment, meaning that it involves no invasive or irreversible procedures. While other types of treatment are sometimes recommended for bruxism, it’s generally best to try the most conservative first. But how does it feel to wear it?
“I think it’s comfortable to wear,” Tara told Dear Doctor magazine. “You don’t even think about it.”
So whether you’re a type-A competitor or a dedicated fan watching the games unfold on TV, don’t let bruxism get the better of your smile. If you think you may be clenching or grinding your teeth, ask us about a custom-made nightguard.
For more information about teeth grinding, contact our office or schedule a consultation to find out more about teeth whitening. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “Stress & Tooth Habits.”
Dental implants are today’s closest restorative facsimile to natural teeth. And they’re versatile: not only can they replace single teeth but they can also support bridges or dentures.
But since one of their crucial components is made of metal, are you out of luck obtaining this state-of-the-art dental restoration if you have a metal allergy?
The answer is: probably not—it’s rare for implants to cause an allergic reaction. Still, metal allergies can be a potential problem within your mouth as with other areas of health.
An allergy originates from the body’s necessary response to potentially harmful microorganisms or substances. Sometimes, however, this response becomes chronic and exaggerated, creating an allergy. People can have allergies to nearly anything with responses ranging from a minor rash to a potentially life-threatening multi-organ system shutdown (anaphylactic shock).
A small number of people have allergies to particular metals. One of the most common is nickel, which affects an estimated 17% of women and 3% of men; cobalt and chromium are also known to cause allergies. Consumer exposure, particularly metal contact with the skin through jewelry or clothing, is the most prevalent, but not the most concerning. That’s reserved for metal allergies related to medical devices like coronary stents or hip and knee prostheses. And in dentistry, there are rare occasions of inflammation or rashes from metal amalgam fillings.
Which brings us to dental implants: the main metal post that’s inserted into the jawbone is usually made of titanium. It’s the metal of choice for two reasons: it’s bio-compatible, meaning the body normally accepts its presence; and it’s osteophilic, which means bone cells readily grow and adhere to it, a major reason for implant durability.
While it’s possible for someone to have an allergy and subsequent reaction to implants with titanium, the occurrences appear to be extremely low. In one study of 1,500 patients, titanium allergies were estimated to be a factor in implant failures in less than 1% of those studied.
Even so, if you have known metal allergies you should make sure your dentist knows. Being aware of all the facts will help them recommend the best tooth replacement choice for you—and hopefully it will be dental implants.
If you would like more information on dental implant restorations, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Metal Allergies to Dental Implants.”
Losing teeth to tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease is never easy. But with implant-supported bridgework, you can regain lost function and appearance with a restoration that could last for many years.
Don’t think, though, that dental disease woes are a thing of the past with your new implants. Although your restoration itself can’t be infected, the supporting gums and underlying bone can, often through bacterial plaque accumulating around the implants. The bone that supports the implants could deteriorate, dramatically increasing your chances of losing your restoration.
It’s essential, then, that you keep the area between the bridge and gums clean of plaque through daily hygiene. This definitely includes flossing around the implants.
Flossing with an implant-supported bridge will be different than with natural teeth: instead of flossing between teeth you’ll need to thread the floss between the bridge and gums. Although this is a bit more difficult, it can be done with the help of a floss threader, a device with a loop on one end and a long, thin plastic point on the other—similar to a sewing needle.
To use it, thread about 18” of floss through the loop and then pass the threader’s thin end first through the space between the bridge and gums toward the tongue until the floss threader pulls through. You can then take hold of one end of the floss and then pull the threader completely out from beneath the bridge. Then, you wrap the ends around your fingers as you would normally and thoroughly floss the implant surfaces you’re accessing. You then release one end of the floss, pull out the remainder, rethread it in the threader and repeat the process in the next space between implants.
You also have other hygiene tool options: prefabricated floss with stiffened ends that thread through the bridge-gum space that you can use very easily; or you can purchase an interproximal brush that resembles a pipe cleaner with thin plastic bristles to access the space and brush around the implants.
Some patients also find an oral irrigator, a handheld device that sprays a pressurized stream of water to loosen and flush away plaque, to be an effective way of keeping this important area clean. But that said, oral irrigators generally aren’t as effective removing dental plaque as are floss or interproximal brushes.
Whatever flossing method you choose, the important thing is to choose one and practice it every day. By keeping bacterial plaque from building up around your implants, you’ll help ensure you won’t lose your restoration to disease, so it can continue to serve you for many years to come.
Even though an implant is now as close to life-like as modern dentistry can produce, it won’t surpass the function of your own natural tooth. That’s not to say implants are an inferior choice—in fact, it’s often the best one if a tooth is beyond reasonable repair. But first, let’s consider saving your existing tooth.
We first need to know why your tooth is diseased—more than likely either from tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. Although different, these infections both begin with bacteria and can eventually lead to tooth loss.
While your mouth is teeming with millions of harmless bacteria, a few strains that live in dental plaque (a thin biofilm on your teeth) can cause disease. As they proliferate—feeding mostly on leftover sugar—they produce acid, which can erode the protective enamel on teeth. This can create cavities, which must be cleared of decayed material and filled.
Sometimes, though, the decay spreads deep within the pulp and through the root canals putting the tooth in danger. We may be able to save it, though, with a root canal treatment. In this common procedure we access the pulp chamber and clean out all the diseased or dead tissue. We then fill the empty chamber and root canals with a gutta percha filling and then seal the tooth. We later cap the tooth with a crown to further protect it.
Dental plaque can also give rise to a gum infection that triggers chronic inflammation. The inflammation can cause the gums to weaken and detach from the teeth to form large, infection-filled voids called periodontal pockets. This could lead to bone deterioration, further loosening the tooth’s hold.
But we can effectively treat gum disease by removing the plaque, which is fueling the infection. We normally do this with special hand instruments, but may also need to use surgical measures for more advanced cases. After plaque removal the inflammation subsides, giving the tissues a chance to heal and strengthen. We may also need to provide further assistance to these tissues to regenerate through gum or bone grafting.
These efforts can be quite involved, but if successful they could give your tooth another lease on life. And that could be a much better outcome for your dental health.
If you would like more information on the best treatment choices for your dental health, 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 “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
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