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.
For several decades, dentists have been saving teeth from tooth decay following a few basic guidelines: 1) Identify decay as soon as possible; 2) Thoroughly remove decayed tooth structure; and 3) Fill any cavities. With millions of diseased teeth rescued, observing these simple steps have proven a rousing success.
But as with most things, even this successful protocol isn't perfect. For one, some healthy tissue gets removed along with the diseased portions. The average percentage of "collateral damage" has dropped over the years, but it still happens—and a reduction in healthy tissue can make a tooth less structurally sound.
Another drawback, at least from the patient's perspective, is the dental drill used for removing decay and preparing cavities for filling. Many people find drilling unpleasant, whether from its vibrations in the mouth or its high-pitched whine. The drill's burr head design also contributes to greater healthy tissue loss.
But those weaknesses have lessened over the last few years, thanks to innovations on a number of fronts.
Better risk management. Tooth decay doesn't occur out of thin air—it arises out of risk factors unique to an individual patient like personal hygiene, bacterial load, saliva production or even genetics. Taking the time to identify a patient's "tooth decay risk score" can lead to customized treatments and practices that can minimize the occurrence of decay.
Earlier detection. Like other aspects of dental health, the sooner we detect decay, the less damage it causes and the more successful our treatment. X-rays remain the workhorse for detecting decay, but now with improvements like digital film and better equipment. We're also using newer technologies like laser fluorescence and infrared technology that can "see" decay that might otherwise go undetected.
Less invasive treatment. The dental drill is now being used less with the advent of air abrasion technology. Air abrasion utilizes a concentrated spray of particles to remove diseased tooth structure more precisely than drilling. That means less healthy tissue loss—and a more pleasant (and quieter!) experience for the patient.
In effect, "less is more" could describe these improvements to traditional decay treatment. They and other methods promise healthier teeth and happier patients.
If you would like more information on current treatments for tooth decay, 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 “Minimally Invasive Dentistry: When Less Care is More.”
If you've decided on a dental implant to replace a missing tooth, you've made a great choice. Implants are a big favorite of both dentists and patients, not only for their life-likeness, but also their durability. Studies show that more than 95% of implants survive after ten years.
As you may know, single tooth implants are composed of two main parts: a metal post (usually titanium) imbedded in the jawbone; and a life-like crown affixed to the end of the post. But what you may not know is that there are two ways to attach the crown—either with screws or with dental cement.
Neither way is superior to the other—both have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. A cemented crown, for instance, usually looks more like a natural tooth than a screw-retained crown (more about that later) and dentists have more flexibility in making them look natural.
But cemented crowns require an additional piece of hardware called an abutment to better match it with the implant, something unnecessary with a screw-retained crown. Some people can also experience a reaction to the cement resulting in inflammation or even bone loss. And once installed, removing the crown later for repair or replacement is much more difficult than with a screw-retained crown.
Besides attaching directly to the implant, screw-retained crowns don't require cement and are more easily attached and removed. But the screw-hole can pose some aesthetic problems: Although it can be filled with a tooth-colored filling, the tooth's appearance isn't as ideal as a cemented crown.
So, which one is best for you? That will depend on the type and location of teeth being replaced, as well as your dentist's preferences. For instance, a more attractive cemented crown may be better for a visible front tooth, while a screw-retained crown might be a good choice for a back premolar or molar where appearance isn't as big a factor.
In the end, it's likely your dentist will discuss the pros and cons for each method as it pertains to your individual case. Whichever way your crown attaches, the end result will still be a life-like tooth that could last you for years to come.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 Crowns Attach to Implants.”
Our primary aim as dentists is to preserve teeth. There are times, however, when preserving a tooth is no longer worth the effort and we must recommend removing it. Fortunately, extracted teeth can be replaced with a functional and attractive restoration.
Today's top tooth-replacement option is the dental implant. Composed of a titanium metal post imbedded into the jawbone, a single dental implant can replace an individual tooth or a series of implants can support other restorations for multiple teeth. Besides being incredibly life-like, dental implants are highly durable and can last for decades.
But dental implants aren't an optimal choice for everyone. Their cost often matches their status as the premier tooth replacement method. And because they require a minimum amount of bone for proper implantation, they're not always feasible for patients with extensive bone loss.
But even if dental implants aren't right for you, and you want a fixed restoration rather than dentures, you still have options. What's more, they've been around for decades!
One is a bonded crown, which works particularly well for a tooth excessively damaged by decay, excessive wear or fractures. After removing all of the damaged portions and shaping the remaining tooth, we cement a life-like crown, custom created for that particular tooth, over the remaining structure.
Besides improving appearance, a crown also protects the tooth and restores its function. One thing to remember, though, is although the crown itself is impervious to disease, the remainder of the natural tooth isn't. It's important then to brush and floss around crowned teeth like any other tooth and see a dentist regularly for cleanings.
Dental bridges are a fixed solution for extracted teeth. It's composed of prosthetic teeth to replace those missing bonded together with supporting crowns on both ends. These crowned teeth are known as abutments, and, depending on how many teeth are being replaced, we may need to increase the number of abutments to support the bridge.
Although durable, crowns or bridges typically don't match the longevity of an implant. And, implants don't require the permanent alteration of support teeth as is necessary with a bridge. But when the choice of implants isn't on the table, these traditional restorations can be an effective dental solution.
If you would like more information on crown or bridge restorations, 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 “Crowns & Bridgework.”
We're all interested in how our toothpaste tastes, how it freshens breath or how it brightens teeth. But those are secondary to its most important function, which is how well our toothpaste helps us remove dental plaque, that thin bacterial film on teeth most responsible for both tooth decay and gum disease.
Daily brushing and flossing clear away dental plaque, resulting in a much lower risk for dental disease. But while the mechanical action of brushing loosens plaque, toothpaste helps complete its removal. It can do this because of two basic ingredients found in nearly every brand of toothpaste.
The first is an abrasive (or polishing agent), a gritty substance that boosts the effectiveness of the brushing action (which, by the way, alleviates the need for harmful aggressive brushing). These substances, usually hydrated silica, hydrated alumina or calcium carbonate, are abrasive enough to loosen plaque, but not enough to damage tooth enamel.
The other ingredient, a detergent, works much the same way as the product you use to wash greasy dishes—it breaks down the parts of plaque that water can't dissolve. The most common, sodium lauryl sulfate, a safe detergent found in other hygiene products, loosens and dissolves plaque so that it can be easily rinsed away.
You'll also find other ingredients to some degree in toothpaste: flavorings, of course, that go a long way toward making the brushing experience more pleasant; humectants to help toothpaste retain moisture; and binders to hold bind all the ingredients together. And many toothpastes also contain fluoride, a naturally-occurring chemical that strengthens tooth enamel.
You may also find additional ingredients in toothpastes that specialize in certain functions like reducing tartar buildup (hardened plaque), easing tooth or gum sensitivity or controlling bacterial growth. Many toothpastes also include whiteners to promote a brighter smile. Your dentist can advise you on what to look for in a toothpaste to meet a specific need.
But your first priority should always be how well your toothpaste helps you keep your teeth and gums healthy. Knowing what's in it can help you choose your toothpaste more wisely.
If you would like more information on oral hygiene products and 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 “Toothpaste: What's in It?”
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