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.
Occurrences of obesity and Type 2 diabetes have soared in the last few decades. While there are a number of influencing factors, health officials place most of the blame on one of our favorite foods: sugar. Only a generation ago we were consuming an annual average of 4 pounds per person. Now, it's nearly 90 pounds.
We've long known that sugar, a favorite food not only for humans but also oral bacteria, contributes to dental disease. But we now have even more to concern us—the effect of increased sugar consumption on health in general.
It's time we took steps to rein in our favorite carbohydrate. Easier said than done, of course—not only is it hard to resist, it's also hard to avoid. With its steady addition over the years to more and more processed foods, nearly 77% of the products on grocery store shelves contain some form of sugar.
Here's what you can do, though, to reduce sugar in your diet and take better care of your dental and general health.
Be alert to added sugar in processed foods. To make wiser food choices, become familiar with the U.S.-mandated ingredient listing on food product packaging—it tells if any sugar has been added and how much. You should also become acquainted with sugar's many names like "sucrose" or "high fructose corn syrup," and marketing claims like "low fat" that may mean the producer has added sugar to improve taste.
Avoid sodas and other prepared beverages. Some of the highest sources for added sugar are sodas, sports drinks, teas or juice. You may be surprised to learn you could consume your recommended daily amount of sugar in one can of soda. Substitute sugary beverages with unsweetened drinks or water.
Exercise your body—and your voice. Physical activity, even the slightest amount, helps your body metabolize the sugar you consume. And speaking of activity, exercise your right to have your voice heard by your elected officials in support of policy changes toward less sugar additives in food products.
Becoming an informed buyer, disciplined consumer and proactive citizen are the most important ingredients for stopping this destructive health epidemic. Your teeth—and the rest of your body—will thank you.
If you would like more information on the effects of sugar on dental and general health, 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 “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”
If you have periodontal (gum) disease, it's important for you to know its effects aren't limited to your mouth. A number of studies demonstrate gum disease can affect the rest of your body — and what may be going on elsewhere could likewise stimulate gum disease.
Here are 3 diseases or conditions that seem to share a link with gum disease.
Diabetes. This chronic disease results from the body's inability to interact properly with insulin, the hormone necessary for turning glucose (sugar) into energy, or producing enough of it. There's clear evidence that having diabetes increases your risk of gum disease and vice-versa. If you have diabetes, it's important that you keep it under control for your gum's sake as much as for your overall health.
Cardiovascular disease. Like diabetes, this group of heart and blood vessel diseases has a related characteristic with gum disease: inflammation. This natural function of the immune system limits tissue damage caused by disease or injury. But in both CVD and gum disease, inflammation can become chronic and itself cause damage. Further, some types of bacteria associated with gum disease can contribute to a higher risk of CVD. Minimizing gum disease occurrence with good oral hygiene could positively impact your risk of CVD.
Pregnancy. While certainly not a disease, pregnancy does trigger hormonal changes in the mother that in turn could elevate her risk of gum disease, particularly pregnancy gingivitis. Not only does this pose problems for the mother's teeth and gums, some studies connect gum disease to the increased possibility of early, pre-term birth. A sharper focus on dental care during pregnancy not only benefits the mother but may also be important for the health of the baby.
These aren't the only conditions that can be affected by gum disease: others like osteoporosis, respiratory disease or rheumatoid arthritis also share links with the disease. If you have any systemic condition like these, it pays to be extra vigilant in preventing and treating gum disease.
If you would like more information on periodontal (gum) disease, 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 “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
Sometimes dental conditions point to health problems beyond the teeth and gums. An astute dentist may even be able to discern that a person’s oral problems actually arise from issues with their emotional well-being.Â In fact, a visit to the dentist could uncover the presence of two of the most prominent eating disorders, bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa.
Here are 3 signs dentists look for that may indicate an eating disorder.
Dental Erosion. Ninety percent of patients with bulimia and twenty percent with anorexia have some form of enamel erosion. This occurs because stomach acid — which can soften and erode enamel — enters the mouth during self-induced vomiting (purging), a prominent behavior with bulimics and somewhat with anorexics. This erosion looks different from other causes because the tongue rests against the back of the bottom teeth during vomiting, shielding them from much of the stomach acid. As a result, erosion is usually more severe on the upper front teeth, particularly on the tongue side and biting edges.
Enlarged Salivary Glands. A person induces vomiting during purging by using their fingers or other objects. This irritates soft tissues in the back of the throat like the salivary glands and causes them to swell. A dentist or hygienist may notice redness on the inside of the throat or puffiness on the outside of the face just below the ears.
Over-Aggressive Brushing. Bulimics are acutely aware of their appearance and often practice diligent hygiene habits. This includes brushing the teeth, especially after a purging episode. In doing so they may become too aggressive and, coupled with brushing right after purging when the minerals in enamel are softened, cause even greater erosion.
Uncovering a family member’s eating disorder can be stressful for all involved. In the long run, it’s best to seek out professional help and guidance — a good place to start is the National Eating Disorders Association (www.nationaleatingdisorders.org). While you’re seeking help, you can also minimize dental damage by encouraging the person to rinse with water (or a little baking soda) after purging to neutralize any acid in the mouth, as well as avoid brushing for an hour.
If you would like more information on the effect of eating disorders on oral health, 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 “Bulimia, Anorexia & Oral Health.”
We've all done it — suddenly bit the inside of our mouth while chewing food. All too often our cheek, lip or tongue finds itself in the way of our teeth.
The small wound caused by these types of bites usually heals quickly. But it's also common for the natural swelling of these wounds to cause the skin to become prominent and thus more in the way when we eat. As a result we bite it again — and again. If bit a number of times, the old wound can form a bump made of tougher tissue.
Also known as a traumatic fibroma, this growth is made up of a protein called collagen that forms into strands of fibers, similar to scar tissue or a callous. As you continue to bite it, the fibers form a knot of tissue that becomes larger with each subsequent bite and re-healing.
Unlike malignant lesions that form relatively quickly, these types of lumps and bumps usually take time to form.Â They're not injurious to health, but they can be irritating and painful when you re-bite them. We can alleviate this aggravation, though, by simply removing them.
The procedure, requiring the skills of an oral surgeon, periodontist or a general dentist with surgical training, begins with numbing the area with a local anesthetic. The fibroma is then removed and the area closed with two or three small stitches. With the fibroma gone, the tissue surface once again becomes flat and smooth; it should only take a few days to a week to completely heal with mild pain medication like ibuprofen to control any discomfort.
Once removed, we would have the excised tissue biopsied for any malignant cells. This is nothing to cause concern: while the fibroma is more than likely harmless, it's standard procedure to biopsy any excised tissue.
The big benefit is that the aggravating lump or bump that's been causing all the trouble is no more. You'll be able to carry on normal mouth function without worrying about biting it again.
If you would like more information on minor mouth sores and wounds, 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 “Common Lumps and Bumps in the Mouth.”