Cancer treatment can consume all of your focus to the exclusion of other health issues. But these other issues still need attention, especially how treating cancer could affect other parts of your body. That definitely includes your teeth and gums.
Treatments like radiation or chemotherapy eradicate cancer cells disrupting their growth. Unfortunately, they may do the same to benign cells — “collateral damage,” so to speak. This could cause a ripple effect throughout the body, including in the mouth. Radiation, for example, could damage the salivary glands and result in reduced salivary flow. Because saliva neutralizes acid and diminishes bacterial growth, your risk for tooth decay as well as periodontal (gum) disease could increase.
While you may be able to recover from reduced salivary flow after treatment, your health could suffer in the meantime, even to the point of tooth and bone loss. Fortunately, there are some things we can do before and during your treatment.
If you can, have any necessary dental work performed well before you begin cancer treatment. You’ll be more resistant to side effects if you can start treatment with as healthy a mouth as possible.
Keep up your regular dental visits if at all possible, or see us if you begin seeing signs of dental disease. By staying on schedule, we’ll have a better chance of detecting and treating problems before they advance too far; we may also be able to provide preventive measures like topical fluoride applications to help keep your teeth resistant to disease. If you need more extensive treatment like tooth extraction or surgery we may need to coordinate with your cancer treatment provider.
Above all, continue to practice daily brushing and flossing to remove plaque, the main cause of dental disease. Drink plenty of water or take substances that boost salivation. And be sure to eat a nutritious diet while also reducing or eliminating tobacco or alcohol from your lifestyle.
Taking these steps will help protect your teeth and gums during cancer treatment. As a result, you have a better chance for maintaining your dental health during this critical time in your life.
If you would like more information on dental care during cancer treatment, 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 “Oral Health During Cancer Treatment.”
Academy Award-winning actress Kathy Bates knows how important it is to present your best face to the world — and one of the most important features of that face is a beaming smile. But there came a point when she noticed something was a little off. “I've always had good teeth, but it seemed to me as I was getting older that they weren't looking as good,” Kathy explained in a recent interview with Dear Doctor magazine.
That's when she decided it was time to take action. Kathy had orthodontic treatment when she was in her fifties, and she keeps her smile bright with tooth whitening treatments. She uses a kit provided by her dentist with a safe, effective whitening solution.
Of course, a bright, healthy smile looks great anywhere — whether you're on the red carpet or “off the grid.” And you don't have to be a Hollywood star to have professional whitening treatments. In fact, teeth whitening is one of the most popular and affordable cosmetic treatments modern dentistry offers.
The basic options for professional teeth whitening include in-office bleaching or take-home kits. Both types of dentist-supervised treatments offer a safe and effective means of getting a brighter smile; the main difference is how long they take to produce results. A single one-hour treatment in the office can make your teeth up to ten shades lighter — a big difference! To get that same lightening with at-home trays, it would take several days. On the plus side, the take-home kit is less expensive, and can achieve the same results in a bit more time.
It's important to note that not all teeth can be whitened with these treatments. Some teeth have intrinsic (internal) stains that aren't affected by external agents like bleaches. Also, teeth that have been restored (with bonding or veneers, for example) generally won't change color. And you can't necessarily whiten your teeth to any degree: Every tooth has a maximum whiteness, and adding more bleach won't lighten it beyond that level. Most people, however, find that teeth whitening treatments produce noticeable and pleasing results.
What about those off-the-shelf kits or in-the-mall kiosks? They might work… or they might not. But one thing's for sure: Without a dentist's supervision, you're on your own. That's the main reason why you should go with a pro if you're considering teeth whitening. We not only ensure that your treatment is safe — we can also give you a realistic idea of what results to expect, and we will make sure that other dental problems aren't keeping you from having a great-looking smile.
How often does Kathy Bates see her dentist for a checkup and cleaning? “I go about every four months,” she noted. “I'm pretty careful about it.” And if you've seen her smile, you can tell that it pays off. If you would like more information about teeth whitening, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Important Teeth Whitening Questions Answered” and “Teeth Whitening.”
Orthodontics relies on certain mechanics in the mouth to move teeth to better positions. As the specialty has advanced, we've become ever more precise in moving teeth with braces, the “workhorse” of orthodontics, and other specialized appliances and techniques.
But although cooperating effectively with the mouth's natural ability for tooth movement is crucial for success, there's another aspect to consider if that success will be long-term: the growth and development of oral and facial structure. And not just development during childhood and adolescence: indeed, facial structure continues to change throughout a lifetime, including the senior years. Research has shown that although the rate of growth slows over time, it doesn't stop even for someone 80 years or older.
Our emerging understanding in this area has had an important impact on how and when we perform orthodontic treatment. As we develop a treatment strategy for an individual patient we consider not only the immediate outcome of a treatment, but also how it may change their facial appearance in the future. By taking continuing facial growth into consideration, we're more likely to achieve a new smile appearance that remains attractive later in life.
A key factor is to be sure we're initiating treatments at appropriate ages. We may detect developing bite problems as early as age 6, which might prompt preventive treatment at that time to diminish or even eliminate the problem. But it may also be prudent to wait on full-scale orthodontic treatment until late childhood or puberty. Furthermore, some form of orthodontic treatment might need to continue into early adulthood to ensure the most optimal outcome.
By taking a longer view of the treatment process, we're better able to work within the natural growth and development taking place now and in the future. As a result, a person is more likely to enjoy an attractive and youthful appearance even in their later years.
If you would like more information on aging factors for cosmetic enhancement, 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 “Understanding Aging Makes Beauty Timeless.”
Cavities can happen even before a baby has his first piece of candy. This was the difficult lesson actor David Ramsey of the TV shows Arrow and Dexter learned when his son DJ’s teeth were first emerging.
“His first teeth came in weak,” Ramsey recalled in a recent interview. “They had brown spots on them and they were brittle.” Those brown spots, he said, quickly turned into cavities. How did this happen?
Ramsey said DJ’s dentist suspected it had to do with the child’s feedings — not what he was being fed but how. DJ was often nursed to sleep, “so there were pools of breast milk that he could go to sleep with in his mouth,” Ramsey explained.
While breastfeeding offers an infant many health benefits, problems can occur when the natural sugars in breast milk are left in contact with teeth for long periods. Sugar feeds decay-causing oral bacteria, and these bacteria in turn release tooth-eroding acids. The softer teeth of a young child are particularly vulnerable to these acids; the end result can be tooth decay.
This condition, technically known as “early child caries,” is referred to in laymen’s terms as “baby bottle tooth decay.” However, it can result from nighttime feedings by bottle or breast. The best way to prevent this problem is to avoid nursing babies to sleep at night once they reach the teething stage; a bottle-fed baby should not be allowed to fall asleep with anything but water in their bottle or “sippy cup.”
Here are some other basics of infant dental care that every parent should know:
- Wipe your baby’s newly emerging teeth with a clean, moist washcloth after feedings.
- Brush teeth that have completely grown in with a soft-bristled, child-size toothbrush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste no bigger than a grain of rice.
- Start regular dental checkups by the first birthday.
Fortunately, Ramsey reports that his son is doing very well after an extended period of professional dental treatments and parental vigilance.
“It took a number of months, but his teeth are much, much better,” he said. “Right now we’re still helping him and we’re still really on top of the teeth situation.”
If you would like more information on dental care for babies and toddlers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Age One Dental Visit” and “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”
It's an unfortunate fact of life. Sometimes a tooth must be extracted. Whether it's irreversibly decayed, abscessed, deeply cracked or simply blocking orthodontic correction, the extracted tooth leaves sutures and an empty socket behind. Dr. Islam Dehis of Little Smiles and Big Smiles in Fitchburg, MA, performs extractions expertly and comfortably, avoiding pain and complications. Also, good after care helps avoid a post-surgery problem called dry socket (alveolar osteitis). Learn what a dry socket is, how to prevent it, and how to treat it if it does occur.
What happens after an extraction in Fitchburg, MA?
Dr. Dehis carefully sutures the gums around the empty tooth socket, or hole left after he removes an ailing or injured tooth. These sutures stop bleeding and encourage formation of a blood clot at the site.
This small blood clot keeps the exposed jaw bone and nerves covered and avoids infection as well. Sometimes, however, this important clot becomes dislodged through smoking too soon after the procedure, rinsing too vigorously or drinking through a straw. Severe throbbing pain, which can spread to the ear, and bad breath accompany exposure of the bone. This urgent dental problem may happen 3 to 4 days after the tooth has been pulled.
Treatment of a dry socket
At the first signs a dry socket, the patient should call Dr. Dehis. He will rinse the area with antibacterial medication, remove any diseased tissue and apply new sutures and a dressing as needed. In addition, he may prescribe an antibiotic to quell infection and an analgesic to control pain.
Avoiding dry socket
Dry socket is relatively rare, occurring in only a small percentage of cases. Your dentist takes special precautions to avoid this complication, and he cautions his extraction patients to:
- Avoid smoking and drinking with a straw for several days post-procedure
- Encourage clot formation by biting gently on sterile gauze right after extraction
- Consume a soft diet (soup, pasta, yogurt) for at least 24 hours and advance to regular foods gradually over the next week
- Avoid very strenuous activity for a day or 2
- Take any medications Dr. Dehis prescribes
If you anticipate a dental extraction in Fitchburg, MA, ask your dentist about aftercare and how to avoid dry socket. Your dedicated team at Little Smiles and Big Smiles desires the best outcomes for all your dental treatments. If you are concerned about the health of a tooth or have a question or concern about any aspect of your oral health, please call (978) 343-2630 to speak to a friendly team member.
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