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 it’s natural that they’ll be focused on their cancer treatment, it’s 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.

Taking care of your dentures

Your dentures are designed to last a very long time so its important that you take care of them as you would take care of your own teeth.

They are very delicate and may break easily if dropped even a few inches. So its a good idea to stand over a folded towel or a basin of water when handling dentures.

When you are not wearing your dentures, store them away from children and pets.

Like natural teeth, dentures must be brushed daily to remove food deposits and plaque.

Brushing helps prevent dentures from becoming permanently stained and helps your mouth stay healthy.

There are special brushes designed for cleaning dentures but a toothbrush with soft bristles can also be used. Avoid using hard-bristled brushes as these can damage your dentures.

Some denture wearers also use hand soap or mild dishwashing liquid for cleaning and thats fine. But avoid using powdered household cleansers, which may be too abrasive. Also, avoid using bleach, as this may whiten the pink portion of the denture.

The first step in cleaning dentures is to rinse away loose food particles thoroughly. Moisten the brush and apply denture cleanser. Brush every surface, scrubbing gently to avoid damage.

Dentures may lose their shape if they are allowed to dry out. When they are not worn, dentures should be placed in a denture cleanser soaking solution or in water. Never place dentures in hot water, which could cause them to warp.

Ultrasonic cleaners are also used to care for dentures. However, using an ultrasonic cleaner does not replace a thorough daily brushing.

You can seriously damage your dentures by trying to adjust or repair them yourself. So see your dentist if your dentures break, crack, chip or if one of the teeth becomes loose.

Over time, dentures will need to be relined, rebased, or remade due to normal wear. They may also need to be replaced if they become loose and the teeth show signs of significant wear.

You need to make regular visits to your dentist to make sure the dentures are working as well as possible for you and to check for more serious problems in your mouth such as oral cancer.

How smoking affects your teeth

While the general effects of smoking on your health are well-known, it can also have significant effects on your oral health.

Here are some of the ways smoking can harm your oral health and hygiene:

– Oral Cancer
– Periodontal (gum) disease
– Delayed healing after a tooth extraction or other oral surgery
– Bad breath
– Stained teeth and tongue
– Diminished sense of taste and smell

Research suggests that smoking may be responsible for almost 75% of adult gum disease.

Tobacco products damage your gum tissue by affecting the attachment of bone and soft tissue to your teeth. One effect is receding gums which expose the tooth roots and increase your risk of tooth decay or to sensitivity to hot and cold in these unprotected areas.

Cigar smoking is equally a major risk and even smokeless tobacco products contain a variety of toxins associated with cancer. Smokeless tobacco can also irritate your gum tissue.

Giving up smoking will provide a significant boost to your oral health as well as giving you the chance to live longer.

Common questions about dental insurance

Understanding what’s covered by your dental insurance is an important part of making sure you get the best oral care possible.

Here are some common questions that arise when people want to understand their cover better.

– If treatment my dentist recommends is not covered by my insurance, does that mean it’s not necessary?

Some plans make exclusions such as sealants, pre-existing conditions, adult orthodontics, and specialist referrals. This depends on your dental plan and you should not let the level of cover determine whether you need treatment.

– My dental benefit will only pay for a large filling but my dentist recommends I get a crown. Which should I choose?

Some plans will only cover the least expensive solution but it may not be the best option for your needs. You should decide based on your health needs and not on your insurance cover.

– My dental plan says it will pay 100 percent for checkups and cleanings but the insurance company says I owe for part of the dentist’s charge. How can this be?

Some plans provide cover based on a “customary fee” for each procedure. So, if your dentist’s fee is higher, your benefit will be based on a percentage of the customary fee instead of your dentist’s fee. Although these limits are called “customary,” they may not accurately reflect the fees that dentists charge in your area.

– Will my plan cover the care my family will need?
If your employer offers more than one plan, check the exclusions and limitations of the coverage as well as looking at the general benefits. It’s a good idea to discuss your family’s likely needs with your dentist before choosing a plan.

The plan document should specify who is eligible for coverage under the plan.

Plans offered by the same provider or employer can vary according to the contracts involved so your dentist will not be able to answer specific questions about your benefit or predict what the coverage for a particular procedure will be.

If you have specific questions about coverage, talk to your plan provider.

Why a dental abscess should be treated quickly

If you have any kind of swelling in your gum, it almost certainly indicates a serious infection that should be treated urgently.

Dental abscesses result from a bacterial infection in the teeth or gums.

For example, it may come from an untreated cavity. Cavities result when some of the bacteria in our mouths mix with sugars and starches in our diet to produce acid.

This acid attacks the hard enamel coating of our teeth and, as the cavity gets deeper, it eventually infects the nerve and blood supply of the tooth.

In some cases, a dental abscess is caused by an infection of the gum. Bone loss from gum disease can create a pocket between the tooth, gum and bone.

When bacteria and other debris get into this pocket, an abscess can form.

The treatment for an abscess depends on how severe the infection is.

If the abscess has been caused by decay, root canal treatment may be needed or the tooth may even have to be removed.

If the abscess has been caused by the gum, the gum will need deep cleaning or surgical treatment. Again the tooth may need to be removed.

Sometimes, a small incision may be made into the gum to drain the abscess. If this happens, antibiotics and pain medication may be used to relieve discomfort.

If you wait until the gum is severely swollen before seeking treatment, the situation can become very serious.

The abscess at this stage can prevent you breathing properly and can be life-threatenting.

So if you have any signs of swelling in your gum, contact your dentist immediately.

Maintaining proper nutrition as an older adult

Maintaining proper nutrition is important for everyone, young or old but many older adults find it difficult to eat a balanced diet.

They may avoid meats, raw vegetables and fresh fruits because they have trouble chewing or swallowing.

These problems can be caused by painful teeth, ill-fitting dentures, dry mouth or changes in facial muscles.

Others find their sense of taste has changed, sometimes due to a disease or certain medications.

As a result, older adults often have diets lacking in calcium, protein and other nutrients essential to dental and overall health.

A balanced diet has to be based on the five food groups:
– Milk and dairy products
– Breads and cereals
– Meats and dried beans
– Fruits
– Vegetables

Sometimes a multi-vitamin or mineral supplement will help but it’s best to use supplements only after discussion with your physician.

If your teeth are stopping you from eating the food you enjoy  or that you need for good health  your dentist will be able to help you find a solution.

How to take care of your teeth with braces

Braces are orthodontic apparatus used to help fix crooked and crowded teeth.

While modern braces can be comfortable and inconspicuous, you may have to take extra steps to care for your teeth when wearing them.

Its important that you continue good oral hygiene practices while wearing braces.

You need to continue brushing regularly, following the approach suggested by your dentist, as well as flossing daily and making regular visits to the dentist.

People with braces should stick to a balanced diet and limit the number of snacks between meals.

Your dentist may suggest that you avoid certain foods that could interfere with braces or accidentally bend the wires. This can include nuts, popcorn, hard candy, ice and sticky foods such as chewing gum or caramel.

You can still continue to enjoy sports and other activities but a protective mouth guard is often recommended to reduce the risk of injury to the mouth or jaw. Your dentist will suggest an appropriate mouth guard when the braces are in place.

Braces can make a big difference to your smile and your future dental health. Modern technology and following good practices means you should be able to wear them with comfort and confidence.

Treating Sensitive Teeth

Sensitive teeth is a common problem that causes many people to feel discomfort with hot or cold foods and drinks.

It can also make it uncomfortable to brush or floss the teeth and therefore can lead to further oral problems.

However, sensitive teeth can be treated.

If you suffer from this, your dentist may suggest that you try a desensitizing toothpaste, which contains compounds that help block transmission of sensation from the tooth surface to the nerve.

For desensitizing toothpaste to work, you normally have to make several applications.

If the desensitizing toothpaste does not help, your dentist may suggest further solutions.

For example, fluoride gel – which strengthens tooth enamel and reduces the transmission of sensations – may be applied to the sensitive areas of the teeth.

If the sensitivity is caused by receding gums, your dentist may use bonding agents that “seal” the sensitive teeth.

The sealer is usually made of a plastic material.

If there is severe hypersensitivity which cannot be treated by other means, there is the option of endodontic (root canal) treatment.

Sensitive teeth is a problem that can stop you enjoying your food but is one that can often be solved.

The power of panoramic x-rays

X-rays are extremely valuable for helping dentists identify issues that may not show up on normal oral examination.

The three most common types of dental X-rays are the bitewing, periapical and panoramic X-rays.

Panoramic X-rays give a broad overview of the entire mouth – supplying information about the teeth, upper and lower jawbone, sinuses, and other hard and soft tissues of the head and neck.

Unlike other X-rays, where the film is placed inside the patients mouth, the panoramic film is contained in a machine that moves around the patient’s head. So they are very easy to use.

Panoramic X-rays are often used to check wisdom teeth but they will also reveal deep cavities and gum disease. They are also useful to help patients with past or present jaw problems or those who require full or partial removable dentures, dental implants, or braces.

They can also be valuable in assisting people who are suspected of having oral cancer or have had recent trauma to the face or teeth.

Panoramic X-rays play an important role in thorough dental examinations and are recommended at least every five years or so for most patients.

Is it safe to have an X-ray while pregnant?

Some women worry about whether it’s safe to have an X-ray exam while they are pregnant.

This can cause them to put off treatment they need.

However, untreated dental infections can pose a risk to the fetus, and dental treatment may be necessary to maintain the health of the mother and child. Sometimes this will mean an X-ray is necessary.

Radiation from dental X-rays is extremely low but every precaution is taken to minimize radiation exposure.

For example, a leaded apron reduces exposure to the abdomen and should be used when a dental radiograph is taken.

In addition, a leaded thyroid collar can protect the thyroid from radiation, and should be used whenever possible. The use of a leaded thyroid collar is strongly recommended for women of childbearing age, pregnant women and children.

Overall there is no reason to avoid dental radiographs (X-rays) while pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to become pregnant.

Follow your dentist’s advice and ask questions if you have any concerns.