As a cancer patient, you know how important radiation and chemotherapy are to overcoming the disease. But these treatments often come at a price to other aspects of your health, including your teeth and gums if the treatment target includes the head or neck regions.
Radiation and chemotherapy are effective because they target and destroy cancer cells. Unfortunately, they may also kill non-cancerous, healthy cells; in the mouth, for example, they can damage the cells in the salivary glands and disrupt their ability to produce adequate saliva flow, leading to xerostomia (dry mouth).
This could seriously affect your teeth’s protective enamel shell. As we eat or drink, our mouth’s pH level can become too acidic. Acid is your enamel’s primary enemy because it causes the minerals in the enamel to soften and dissolve (de-mineralization). Saliva neutralizes acid and replaces much of the enamel’s minerals.
Without adequate saliva flow, the enamel will tend to erode over time. You can further aggravate the situation if you routinely consume acidic foods and drinks, like sipping energy drinks or soda during the day. Once the enamel is gone it can’t be replaced naturally, and the teeth will be in serious danger of tooth decay and eventual loss of function and appearance.
To avoid these consequences you should take steps during cancer treatment to reduce your risk for xerostomia or other unhealthy mouth conditions: limit your consumption of acidic foods and beverages; use mouth rinses to counteract acidity and inhibit bacterial growth; and promote saliva flow through medication.
It may be, though, that enamel erosion and subsequent tooth damage is unavoidable. In this case, you may need to consider restorative options with artificial crowns or other cosmetic enhancements — not only to improve your appearance but also to protect your natural teeth from further damage.
Before considering the latter, you should undergo a complete dental examination to assess your condition and make sure you have adequate bone and gum support, and any dental disease under control. From here, we can go about restoring the attractive smile that may have faded during your battle with cancer.
Fans of the primetime TV show The Middle were delighted to see that high school senior Sue, played by Eden Sher, finally got her braces off at the start of Season 6. But since this popular sitcom wouldn’t be complete without some slapstick comedy, this happy event is not without its trials and tribulations: The episode ends with Sue’s whole family diving into a dumpster in search of the teen’s lost retainer. Sue finds it in the garbage and immediately pops it in her mouth. But wait — it doesn’t fit, it’s not even hers!
If you think this scenario is far-fetched, guess again. OK, maybe the part about Sue not washing the retainer upon reclaiming it was just a gag (literally and figuratively), but lost retainers are all too common. Unfortunately, they’re also expensive to replace — so they need to be handled with care. What’s the best way to do that? Retainers should be brushed daily with a soft toothbrush and liquid soap (dish soap works well), and then placed immediately back in your mouth or into the case that came with the retainer. When you are eating a meal at a restaurant, do not wrap your retainer in a napkin and leave it on the table — this is a great way to lose it! Instead, take the case with you, and keep the retainer in it while you’re eating. When you get home, brush your teeth and then put the retainer back in your mouth.
If you do lose your retainer though, let us know right away. Retention is the last step of your orthodontic treatment, and it’s extremely important. You’ve worked hard to get a beautiful smile, and no one wants to see that effort wasted. Yet if you neglect to wear your retainer as instructed, your teeth are likely to shift out of position. Why does this happen?
As you’ve seen firsthand, teeth aren’t rigidly fixed in the jaw — they can be moved in response to light and continuous force. That’s what orthodontic appliances do: apply the right amount of force in a carefully controlled manner. But there are other forces at work on your teeth that can move them in less predictable ways. For example, normal biting and chewing can, over time, cause your teeth to shift position. To get teeth to stay where they’ve been moved orthodontically, new bone needs to form around them and anchor them where they are. That will happen over time, but only if they are held in place with a retainer. That’s why it is so important to wear yours as directed — and notify us immediately if it gets lost.
And if ever you do have to dig your retainer out of a dumpster… be sure to wash it before putting in in your mouth!
If you would like more information on retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers” and “Why Orthodontic Retainers?”
The CAT scan is a relatively recent technique in dentistry, used to get an image of what’s happening deep within your jaws. You may be wondering what a CAT scan tells us that a conventional x-ray picture does not, and whether it is worth the extra expense to get one. And how does a CAT scan compare with a conventional x-ray in terms of radiation exposure?
CAT stands for “computer assisted tomography.” Often it’s just called a CT scan, for “computerized tomography.” The word “tomography” comes from roots meaning “slice” and “write.” Tomographic techniques take repeated two dimensional pictures, similar to repeatedly slicing through an object, and then assembles them with a computer to produce a three dimensional (3-D) image.
The latest type of CT scan used in dentistry is called CBCT, or Cone Beam Computed Tomography. The Cone Beam refers to a spiral beam of x-rays, which is used to create a series of two dimensional images from which a computer creates a 3-D image. Such an image is of great value in assessing problems and planning treatment.
Here are just a few examples of how a CBCT scan can be used. Orthodontists can see skeletal structures and developing teeth that are still inside the jawbone while planning strategies for directing the teeth in order to arrive at a better bite. Oral surgeons can find impacted or missing teeth, see their locations, and view their proximity to nerves and sinuses, assisting them in planning surgeries. These scans are particularly useful for root canal specialists because they show root canals that are less than a millimeter wide and even reveal accessory canals that may not be visible on conventional x-rays. In cases of sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, a CBCT during sleep can be used to view a person’s airway and how it may be blocked by the tongue and other soft tissues in a person’s throat during sleep.
Compared to background radiation, the amount of radiation delivered in dental x-rays is minimal. A CBCT delivers a dose of radiation that is less than a typical full mouth x-ray series but more than a typical two dimensional panoramic radiograph. Generally CBCT scanners deliver lower doses than medical CT scanners.
With one low-dose CBCT scan, we can get an accurate idea of the internal structure of your bones and teeth and how they are situated in relation to each other. Prior to the availability of such images, many of these relationships had to be discovered in the course of a surgery or other treatment. Thus such a scan can aid greatly in the quality of treatment you will receive.
Exchanging passionate kisses with big-screen star Jennifer Lawrence might sound like a dream come true. But according to Liam Hemsworth, her Hunger Games co-star, it could also be a nightmare… because J.Law’s breath wasn’t always fresh. “Anytime I had to kiss Jennifer was pretty uncomfortable,” Hemsworth said on The Tonight Show.
Lawrence said the problem resulted from her inadvertently consuming tuna or garlic before the lip-locking scenes; fortunately, the two stars were able to share a laugh about it later. But for many people, bad breath is no joke. It can lead to embarrassment and social difficulties — and it occasionally signifies a more serious problem. So what causes bad breath, and what can you do about it?
In 9 out of 10 cases, bad breath originates in the mouth. (In rare situations, it results from a medical issue in another part of the body, such as liver disease or a lung infection.) The foul odors associated with bad breath can be temporarily masked with mouthwash or breath mints — but in order to really control it, we need to find out exactly what’s causing the problem, and address its source.
As Lawrence and Hemsworth found out, some foods and beverages can indeed cause a malodorous mouth. Onions, garlic, alcohol and coffee are deservedly blamed for this. Tobacco products are also big contributors to bad breath — which is one more reason to quit. But fasting isn’t the answer either: stop eating for long enough and another set of foul-smelling substances will be released. Your best bet is to stay well hydrated and snack on crisp, fresh foods like celery, apples or parsley.
And speaking of hydration (or the lack of it): Mouth dryness and reduced salivary flow during the nighttime hours is what causes “morning breath.” Certain health issues and some medications can also cause “dry mouth,” or xerostomia. Drinking plenty of water can encourage the production of healthy saliva — but if that’s not enough, tell us about it: We may recommend switching medications (if possible), chewing xylitol gum or using a saliva substitute.
Finally, maintaining excellent oral hygiene is a great way to avoid bad breath. The goal of oral hygiene is to control the harmful bacteria that live in your mouth. These microorganisms can cause gum disease, tooth decay, and bad breath — so keeping them in check is good for your overall oral health. Remember to brush twice and floss once daily, stay away from sugary foods and beverages, and visit the dental office regularly for checkups and professional cleanings.
So did J.Law apologize for the malodorous makeout session? Not exactly. “[For] Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, yeah, I’ll brush my teeth,” she laughed.
Hemsworth jokingly agreed: “If I was kissing Christian Bale I probably would have brushed my teeth too. With you, it’s like, ‘Eh. Whatever.’”
If you would like more information about bad breath and oral hygiene, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bad Breath: More than Just Embarrassing.”
In the realm of restorative dentistry, dental implants are king. A dental implant can replace a tooth with a permanent, life-like restoration with a solid reputation for durability.
Implants are also known for one other quality — variety. Not all implants are alike, and they have varied applications for use. Available in various shapes and sizes, they can be used for a single tooth or as part of a multiple tooth bridge or overdenture. And while their basic architecture is the same, you also have two options for how the permanent crown (the visible tooth portion) attaches to the implant: screwed or cemented.
A screw attachment can securely fasten a crown to an implant without the need for cement; it also allows for easy removal for repair or replacement should the crown become damaged or worn. On the other hand, it could pose a cosmetic problem — even though the access hole for the screw may be covered with a tooth-colored filling, it could still be distinguishable from the rest of the crown. There’s also a slight risk of the crown chipping around the access hole.
A crown cemented to the implant won’t have this cosmetic issue with an access hole, and will look just like a natural tooth. But unlike a screwed crown, removing a cemented crown can be more difficult. The cement may also cause gum inflammation and potential bone loss in sensitive patients.
The condition of your mouth, the type of implant you’re receiving and other circumstances will all factor into determining which method is best for you. If we’re “immediately loading” the crown (meaning we’re affixing a temporary crown to the implant immediately after placement in the jaw), then the screw method may be more advantageous. Aesthetically speaking, though, a cemented crown may be a better option in terms of final smile appearance.
But whichever method is used, you’ll still benefit from what implants do best — help you regain the function lost from a missing tooth and change your smile for the better.
If you would like more information on your options with 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.”
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