How cancer treatment can affect your oral health

More than 1 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer each year and many of them will develop problems with their oral health as a result of their cancer treatment.

While its natural that theyll be focused on their cancer treatment, its important not to overlook the importance of a dental examination as part of the process of maintaining overall health.

For example, radiation therapy of the head and neck area may lead to certain complications such as dry mouth, sensitive lesions in the oral cavity, hypersensitive teeth, rapid tooth decay and difficulty swallowing.

Chemotherapy and other medication can also have significant effects in the mouth.

To help prevent, minimize and manage such problems, the dentist and oncologist can work together before and during cancer treatment.

Many medications lead to dry mouth, which can lead to a higher risk of gum disease and other problems. The dentist may therefore recommend a saliva replacement, an artificial saliva that is available over-the-counter at pharmacies.

Frequent fluoride applications may also be recommended.

If you are receiving treatment, schedule regular screenings with your dentist and contact your dentist or physician immediately on any sign of mouth infection. This may have serious implications for your overall health.

Your dentist and physician both want your treatment to be as safe and effective as possible.

Caring for people who have special needs

People at any age can have a condition that makes it difficult for them to look after their own dental health.

This could affect people who suffer from a wide range of conditons such as stroke, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, mental retardation, Down syndrome, genetic disorders, Alzheimers disease or arthritis.

However, people in all of these categories have the same dental needs as everyone else – they need daily brushing and flossing, regular dental visits and a balanced diet.

There are some steps caregivers can take to make it easier to look after people in those categories.

If the person is uncooperative or uncontrollable, try to explain what you are about to do and schedule the task for a time of day when they are rested.

Move in a calm, slow, reassuring manner to avoid startling them. Give praise and encourage them when they help themselves.

Support the persons head, and take special care to prevent choking or gagging when the head is tilted back.

If the person is unable or unwilling to keep their mouth open, your dentist will explain how you can make and use a mouth prop.

Ask your dentist for advice on how to care for people with special needs and check if they have facilities for caring for these needs in the dental office.

Taking care of removable partial dentures

If you have removable plastic dentures, its important to look after them carefully.

You should brush them each day to remove food deposits and plaque. This also helps prevent them from becoming permanently stained.

It’s best to use a brush that is designed for cleaning dentures as it has bristles arranged to fit the shape of the denture. But a regular, soft-bristled toothbrush is also acceptable.

Avoid using a brush with hard bristles as these can damage the denture.

When you are handling a denture, hold them carefully. Try standing over a folded towel or a sink of water with them in case you accidentally drop them.

Its advisable to use a denture cleanser which has the American Dental Association seal of acceptance. However hand soap or mild dishwashing liquid are also acceptable for cleaning dentures.

Other types of household cleaners and many toothpastes are too abrasive and should not be used for cleaning dentures.

A denture can lose its proper shape if it is not kept moist. So it should be placed in soaking solution or water at night though one with metal attachments could be tarnished if placed in soaking solution.

As you age, your mouth naturally changes, which can affect the fit of the denture so, if they no longer fit properly, they should be adjusted by your dentist.

See your dentist promptly if your denture becomes loose as this can cause sores or infections.

Dont try to adjust or repair your denture yourself as this can damage the appliance beyond repair.

When you wear a partial denture, you need to continue brushing twice a day and cleaning between your teeth daily. This will help prevent tooth decay and gum disease.

Pay special attention to cleaning the teeth that fit under the denture’s metal clasps. Plaque that becomes trapped under the clasps will increase the risk of tooth decay.

Your dentist or dental hygienist can demonstrate how to properly brush and clean between teeth.

Regular dental check-ups and having your teeth professionally cleaned are vital for maintaining a healthy smile.

How dentures can replace your smile

If youve lost all of your natural teeth, whether from gum disease, tooth decay or injury, complete dentures can replace your missing teeth and your smile.

Replacing missing teeth will benefit your appearance and your health.

Without support from the denture, facial muscles sag, making a person look older. Youll also find it harder to eat and speak things that people often take for granted until their natural teeth are lost.

There are various types of complete dentures.

A conventional full denture is made and placed in the patients mouth after the remaining teeth are removed and tissues have healed which may take several months.

An immediate complete denture is inserted as soon as the remaining teeth are removed. The dentist takes measurements and makes models of the patients jaws during a preliminary visit. With immediate dentures, the denture wearer does not have to be without teeth during the healing period.

Even if you wear full dentures, you still must take good care of your mouth. Brush your gums, tongue and palate every morning with a soft-bristled brush before you insert your dentures to stimulate circulation in your tissues and help remove plaque.

And even if you wear full dentures, its important to visit your dentist regularly to maintain your overall oral health and get early warning of serious issues such as oral cancer.

Why its not inevitable that youll lose your teeth as you get older

Advancements in dental techniques and the increased focus on preventive dentistry means older adults are keeping their natural teeth longer than ever before.

A survey by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research showed that the rate of toothlessness in the 55 to 64 age group has dropped 60 percent since 1960.

Whatever your age, its important to practice good oral hygiene at home and to visit your dentist regularly. A few simple steps can help you maintain good oral health throughout your life.

Plaque, the sticky, colorless layer of bacteria that causes tooth decay and gum disease, can build up quickly on the teeth of older adults, particularly when they neglect oral hygiene. This can increase the risk for tooth decay and periodontal disease.

So its important to brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, and clean between your teeth daily with floss or interdental cleaners.

Regular dental checkups are also an important part of caring for your teeth.

This can help you save your teeth and gums and prevent other dental problems. It will save you time and money in the long-run as well.

Periodontal disease: what it is and how to avoid it

Periodontal disease is an infection of the tissues that support your teeth.

There is a very slight gap (called a sulcus) between the tooth and the gum.

Periodontal diseases attack this gap and cause a breakdown in the attachment of the tooth and its supporting tissues.

When the tissues are damaged, the sulcus develops into a pocket and, as the disease gets more severe, the pocket usually gets deeper.

The two major stages of periodontal disease are gingivitis and periodontitis.

Gingivitis is a milder and reversible form of periodontal disease that only affects the gums. Gingivitis may lead to periodontitis, which is a more serious, destructive form of periodontal disease.

There are several factors that have been shown to increase the risk of developing periodontal disease:
– Systemic diseases such as diabetes
– Some types of medication
– Crooked teeth
– Bridges that no longer fit properly
– Fillings that have become defective
– Smoking
– Pregnancy

And there are a number of warning signs that can suggest a possible problem:
– Gums that bleed easily
– Red, swollen, tender gums
– Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
– Persistent bad breath or taste
– Permanent teeth that are loose or separating
– Any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
– Any change in the fit of partial dentures

However, its also possible to have periodontal disease with no warning signs.

Its therefore important to have regular dental checkups and periodontal examinations.

If you have developed periodontal disease, the treatment will depend on how far it has progressed.

You can take steps to prevent periodontal disease from becoming more serious or recurring.

Good dental hygiene practices such as brushing twice a day, cleaning between your teeth, eating a healthy diet and having regular visits to the dentist will make a huge difference.

The early years of dentistry and teeth

Although there have been huge advances in dental care in recent years, there are records of people dealing with teeth going back over thousands of years.

Here are some of the key dates from the early years in the development of dentistry.

5000 BC: A Sumerian text describes tooth worms as the cause of dental decay.

2600 BC: Hesy-Re, an Egyptian scribe, often called the first dentist, dies. An inscription on his tomb includes the title the greatest of those who deal with teeth, and of physicians.

500-300 BC: Hippocrates and Aristotle write about dentistry, including the eruption pattern of teeth, treating decayed teeth and gum disease, extracting teeth with forceps, and using wires to stabilize loose teeth and fractured jaws.

166-201 AD: The Etruscans practice dental prosthetics using gold crowns and fixed bridgework.

500-1000: During the Early Middle Ages in Europe, medicine, surgery, and dentistry, are generally practiced by monks, the most educated people of the period

700: A medical text in China mentions the use of silver paste, a type of amalgam.

1130-1163: A series of Papal edicts prohibit monks from performing any type of surgery, bloodletting or tooth extraction. Barbers often assisted monks in their surgical ministry because they visited monasteries to shave the heads of monks and the tools of the barber trade sharp knives and razors were useful for surgery. Following the edicts, barbers assume the monks surgical duties: bloodletting, lancing abscesses, extracting teeth, etc.

1210: A Guild of Barbers is established in France. Barbers eventually evolve into two groups: surgeons who were educated and trained to perform complex surgical operations; and lay barbers, or barber-surgeons, who performed more routine hygienic services including shaving, bleeding and tooth extraction.

1400s: A series of royal decrees in France prohibit lay barbers from practicing all surgical procedures except bleeding, cupping, leeching, and extracting teeth.

The process of installing Invisalign

Invisalign is a system of clear mouthguards that can be used instead of braces to help straighten teeth.

The big advantage is that Invisalign looks better and is more comfortable than braces.

However, not everyone is a candidate for using the system so you with have to check with your dentist.

If an orthodontist certified in Invisalign says you can benefit from the system, they will take impressions of your mouth, write up a detailed specification and then send everything to a high-tech lab.

Next, the lab will show the orthodontist a preview of the appliances.

The lab then makes a series of aligners – depending on the situation, you may need between 12 to 48 aligners.

After the impression of the teeth is taken, it will normally require a visit to the orthodontist every six weeks.

Some patients will be advised to wear metal braces for a period and then switching to Invisalign when their mouth is ready.

For many people Invisalign provides an ideal way of making their smile look better.

How cancer treatment affects oral health

When someone is undergoing cancer treatment, its important that they involve their dentist in their program of care.

They should schedule a dental exam and cleaning before the treatment actually begins and then repeat it periodically during the course of treatment.

Its important that they tell the dentist that they are being treated for cancer and that they also discuss any dental procedures, such as extractions or insertion of dental implants, with the oncologist before starting the cancer treatment.

Its therefore a good idea to ensure that the dentist and oncologist have each others details to enable them to discuss any issues to help the patient.

And the dentist and physician should be informed about any issues such as bleeding of the gums, pain, or unusual feeling in the teeth or gums, or any dental infections.

Maintaining excellent oral hygiene during cancer treatment is vital to reduce the risk of infection and to help aid the treatment process.

How a healthy diet can help you have healthy teeth

Eating the right food plays an important role in developing healthy teeth and gums.

If your diet lacks certain nutrients, it may be more difficult for tissues in your mouth to fight infection and this can contribute to gum disease.

Although poor nutrition does not cause gum disease directly, the disease may progress faster and could be more severe in people with diets which are low in nutrients.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture makes recommendations on the nutrients, vitamins and minerals needed by your body – including your teeth and gums – to promote health and prevent disease.

We have different needs at various stages life and depending on our physical activity. The DOA website provides more information and your dentist will be able to discuss how your diet affects your teeth.

Here are some steps you can take to make sure what you eat doesn’t harm your teeth.
– Maintain a healthy diet
– Drink plenty water
– Limit the number of between-meal snacks. When you must snack, choose nutritious foods that are low in sugar
– Keep a food diary for a week recording every item you eat and drink

It will also help if you brush your teeth twice a day and floss regularly. Schedule regular dental checkups and professional cleanings and talk to your dentist about how your diet affects your teeth.