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 movie Bohemian Rhapsody celebrates the iconic rock band Queen and its legendary lead vocalist, Freddie Mercury. But when we see pictures of the flamboyant singer, many fans both old and new may wonder—what made Freddie’s toothy smile look the way it did? Here’s the answer: The singer was born with four extra teeth at the back of his mouth, which caused his front teeth to be pushed forward, giving him a noticeable overbite.
The presence of extra teeth—more than 20 primary (baby) teeth or 32 adult teeth—is a relatively rare condition called hyperdontia. Sometimes this condition causes no trouble, and an extra tooth (or two) isn’t even recognized until the person has an oral examination. In other situations, hyperdontia can create problems in the mouth such as crowding, malocclusion (bad bite) and periodontal disease. That’s when treatment may be recommended.
Exactly what kind of treatment is needed? There’s a different answer for each individual, but in many cases the problem can be successfully resolved with tooth extraction (removal) and orthodontic treatment (such as braces). Some people may be concerned about having teeth removed, whether it’s for this problem or another issue. But in skilled hands, this procedure is routine and relatively painless.
Teeth aren’t set rigidly in the jawbone like posts in cement—they are actually held in place dynamically by a fibrous membrane called the periodontal ligament. With careful manipulation of the tooth, these fibers can be dislodged and the tooth can be easily extracted. Of course, you won’t feel this happening because extraction is done under anesthesia (often via a numbing shot). In addition, you may be given a sedative or anti-anxiety medication to help you relax during the procedure.
After extraction, some bone grafting material may be placed in the tooth socket and gauze may be applied to control bleeding; sutures (stitches) are sometimes used as well. You’ll receive instructions on medication and post-extraction care before you go home. While you will probably feel discomfort in the area right after the procedure, in a week or so the healing process will be well underway.
Sometimes, dental problems like hyperdontia need immediate treatment because they can negatively affect your overall health; at other times, the issue may be mainly cosmetic. Freddie Mercury declined treatment because he was afraid dental work might interfere with his vocal range. But the decision to change the way your smile looks is up to you; after an examination, we can help you determine what treatment options are appropriate for your own situation.
If you have questions about tooth extraction or orthodontics, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Simple Tooth Extraction” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
Sleep apnea is more than an annoyance. This chronic condition not only interferes with your alertness during the day, it may also contribute long-term to serious issues like cardiovascular disease.
Sleep apnea occurs when your airway becomes temporarily blocked during sleep. Of the possible causes, one of the most common is the tongue, which as it relaxes may cover and block the back of the throat. This lowers the body's oxygen level, which in turn alerts the brain to wake you to clear the airway. You usually go immediately back to sleep, unaware you've wakened. This can happen several times a night.
Although older people are at higher risk, anyone can have sleep apnea, even children with enlarged tonsils or adenoids. If you or a loved one regularly experiences fatigue, brain fog, irritability or loud snoring, sleep apnea could be the culprit. You'll need a complete medical examination to properly diagnose it.
If you do indeed have sleep apnea, there are a number of ways to treat it depending on its severity. One prominent way is with a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine that produces a higher air pressure in the mouth to force the tongue forward and keep the airway open.
While CPAP is effective, the pump, hose and face mask you must wear may become uncomfortable while you sleep. We may, however, be able to supply you with a less cumbersome device: a custom-made oral appliance you wear while you sleep. Similar to a retainer, this appliance mechanically pulls and holds the lower jaw forward, which in turn moves the tongue away from the airway opening.
This oral appliance won't work with all forms of sleep apnea, so you'll need an examination to see if you're a candidate. With more advanced conditions, you may even need surgery to reshape the airway or remove soft tissue obstructions around the opening.
Whichever treatment is best for your situation, it's well worth reducing your sleep apnea. Not enduring these nightly incidences of airway blockage will help ensure you're getting a good night's sleep — and enjoying a higher quality of health and life.
If you would like more information on treating sleep apnea, 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 “If You Snore, You Must Read More!”
Periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection caused by plaque, is one of the most prevalent and destructive dental conditions. Left untreated it can eventually lead to tooth and bone loss.
Although people are often unaware they have gum disease, there are a few warning signs to look for. Here are five gum disease signs that should prompt a dental visit.
Gum Swelling and Redness. Like all infections, gum disease triggers an immune system response that releases antibodies into the gums to attack the bacteria. The ensuing battle results in inflammation (swelling) and a darker redness to the gum tissues that don’t lessen with time.
Gum Bleeding. It isn’t normal for healthy gum tissue, which are quite resilient, to bleed. In a few cases, bleeding may indicate over-aggressive brushing, but more likely it means the tissues have weakened to such an extent by infection they bleed easily.
Tooth Sensitivity. If you notice a shot of pain when you eat or drink something hot or cold or when you bite down, this could mean infected gums have “drawn back” (receded) from the teeth. Gum recession exposes the tooth roots, which are more sensitive to temperature and pressure changes in the mouth.
An Abscess. As weakened gum tissues detach from the tooth, the normally thin gap between them and the tooth deepens to form a void known as a periodontal pocket. This often results in an abscess where pus collects in the pocket and causes it to appear more swollen and red than nearby tissues. An abscess needs immediate attention as bone loss is greatly accelerated compared to normal gum disease.
Tooth Looseness or Movement. As diseased gum tissue causes loss of gum and bone attachment, the affected teeth will start to feel loose or even move to a different position. This is a late and alarming sign of gum disease — without immediate intervention, you’re in danger of losing the tooth.
If you encounter any of these signs, contact us for an examination as soon as possible. The sooner we can diagnose gum disease and begin treatment, the less damage it will cause — and the better your odds of regaining healthy teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on gum disease, please contact us to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Warning Signs of Periodontal (Gum) Disease.”
Before we discuss cosmetic options for transforming your smile, and before any preparations for treatment, there’s one question that needs to be answered: What do you want to be different about your smile?
There’s a common misconception that cosmetic changes to the teeth and gums — a “smile makeover” — is primarily a technical achievement based on rigid principles of beauty. Patients believe they must defer to their dentists for what will look best. But that’s not the entire picture: what’s often lost in the understanding is that it’s your smile — the smile at the end of the process you must be comfortable showing with confidence.
In this regard, there are two types of patients, with no right or wrong view — simply what a patient perceives as the smile they want. Some want the “perfect” smile — the greatest level of regularity between teeth shape, size and alignment and the maximum level of brightness. Others are more comfortable with a “natural” smile, a more subtle look with just enough change to create something new and different. The latter may even desire a less than perfect look that doesn’t “fix” all their imperfections — the ones they believe give their face “character.”
Knowing to which side you lean is important at the outset. It’s then important for you to communicate those expectations with us. While we’re focused on the technical aspects of treatment — tooth length, the lineup of teeth with other facial features or the gum-to-lip distance — only you can express what’s going to be a beautiful yet comfortable smile for you. By meshing the technical requirements with your personal desires, we’re able to formulate a makeover plan that fits you.
It all begins with a comprehensive examination to determine the exact health state of your mouth, and it may be necessary to first perform dental work to improve it. From there we can discuss what is and isn’t possible to change the appearance of your teeth and gums. In the end, we want the same result as you — a beautiful smile you’re happy and confident to show the world.
If you would like more information on smile makeovers, 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 “Great Expectations: Is what you get what you want?”
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