If you’re facing cancer treatment, we wish you the best outcome possible. Treating this disease has advanced tremendously in recent decades, but the available options are still often challenging to endure. It will be your primary focus for the foreseeable future.
As a dental provider we also want you to be aware how the two main treatments, chemotherapy and radiation, could adversely affect your teeth and gums, especially if you’re receiving radiation therapy near the head and neck. The aim of cancer treatment is to attack and destroy cancer cells to prevent their growth. Unfortunately, it can also destroy neighboring healthy cells and lead to harmful consequences in different parts of the body, including the mouth.
Salivary glands, for example, are especially vulnerable to damage during cancer treatment. This could create a situation where the mouth no longer produces adequate saliva flow, leading to a condition called xerostomia or dry mouth. Besides a lot of discomfort, restricted saliva flow can also increase your risk of tooth decay and other dental diseases. This is because saliva is the body’s acid neutralizer (acid can erode tooth enamel) and its first line of defense against microbial infection.
To guard against this, it’s important to support salivary flow as much as possible if you experience dry mouth symptoms during treatment (as well as beyond—it’s possible the damage to these glands could be permanent). Since some medications also contribute to dry mouth, you should speak with your physician about the prescriptions you’re taking: if any have dry mouth side effects ask if there’s an alternative drug without these side effects. You should also drink more water during the day and especially when taking medications. And consider substances like xylitol gum that can help boost saliva flow.
Unfortunately, it may not be possible to fully avoid the effects of these treatments on your teeth and gums. So, be sure you keep up daily brushing and flossing and see your dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups. If necessary, there are a number of restoration options to restore your smile after you’ve completed your treatment.
Dental cleanings are an important part of regular dental office visits. Performed by a dental hygienist or dentist, cleanings serve two purposes: to remove bacterial plaque and calculus (hardened deposits of plaque) from tooth surfaces missed during daily brushing and flossing; and to remove stains that can dull your smile.
There are different degrees of cleaning, including root planing that removes plaque and calculus deep below the gum line, usually for patients affected by periodontal (gum) disease. For patients in good oral health, the basic cleaning approach is known as prophylaxis, a term derived from the Greek for guarding or preventing beforehand. The techniques used in a prophylaxis remove both “coronal” (tooth surfaces visible above the gum line) plaque and staining, providing both therapeutic and cosmetic benefits.
A typical prophylaxis includes a procedure known as scaling. Hygienists use special instruments known as scalers to remove plaque and calculus by hand, or an ultrasonic device that vibrates plaque loose and is flushed away with water. The procedure removes that rough coating you often feel as you rub your tongue against your teeth, leaving the tooth surfaces feeling smooth.
Tooth polishing is a subsequent procedure to scaling that also removes plaque and surface stains. Polishing is carried out with a motorized instrument with a rubber cup in which a polishing (or “prophy”) paste is contained. The hygienist moves the rapidly rotating cup filled with the paste over the tooth surface to remove plaque and stains. The end result is a highly smooth surface and a much shinier appearance.
People with dental insurance plans are often concerned tooth polishing may be viewed strictly as a cosmetic procedure, and thus not fully qualify for benefits. This should not be the case if coded properly: tooth polishing is part of the overall prophylaxis to remove plaque and staining. The primary purpose is therapeutic and preventive; the cosmetic effect is a by-product. Most dental plans will cover one or two prophylaxes (scaling and tooth polishing) a year, but there are variations so individuals should check their plans.
If you would like more information on dental cleaning, 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 “Tooth Polishing.”
Sometimes it seems that appearances count for everything—especially in Hollywood. But just recently, Lonnie Chaviz, the 10-year-old actor who plays young Randall on the hit TV show This Is Us, delivered a powerful message about accepting differences in body image. And the whole issue was triggered by negative social media comments about his smile.
Lonnie has a noticeable diastema—that is, a gap between his two front teeth; this condition is commonly seen in children, but is less common in adults. There are plenty of celebrities who aren’t bothered by the excess space between their front teeth, such as Michael Strahan, Lauren Hutton and Vanessa Paradis. However, there are also many people who choose to close the gap for cosmetic or functional reasons.
Unfortunately, Lonnie had been on the receiving end of unkind comments about the appearance of his smile. But instead of getting angry, the young actor posted a thoughtful reply via Instagram video, in which he said: “I could get my gap fixed. Braces can fix this, but like, can you fix your heart, though?”
Lonnie is raising an important point: Making fun of how someone looks shows a terrible lack of compassion. Besides, each person’s smile is uniquely their own, and getting it “fixed” is a matter of personal choice. It’s true that in most circumstances, if the gap between the front teeth doesn’t shrink as you age and you decide you want to close it, orthodontic appliances like braces can do the job. Sometimes, a too-big gap can make it more difficult to eat and to pronounce some words. In other situations, it’s simply a question of aesthetics—some like it; others would prefer to live without it.
There’s a flip side to this issue as well. When teeth need to be replaced, many people opt to have their smile restored just the way it was, rather than in some “ideal” manner. That could mean that their dentures are specially fabricated with a space between the front teeth, or the crowns of their dental implants are spaced farther apart than they normally would be. For these folks, the “imperfection” is so much a part of their unique identity that changing it just seems wrong.
So if you’re satisfied with the way your smile looks, all you need to do is keep up with daily brushing and flossing, and come in for regular checkups and cleanings to keep it healthy and bright. If you’re unsatisfied, ask us how we could help make it better. And if you need tooth replacement, be sure to talk to us about all of your options—teeth that are regular and “Hollywood white;” teeth that are natural-looking, with minor variations in color and spacing; and teeth that look just like the smile you’ve always had.
Because when it comes to your smile, we couldn’t agree more with what Lonnie Chaviz said at the end of his video: “Be who you want to be. Do what you want to do. Do you. Be you. Believe in yourself.”
If you have questions about cosmetic dentistry, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Beautiful Smiles by Design” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
If you have limited financial resources, learning what it will cost to restore your teeth and gums to good health could be a shock. Dental care can be expensive, especially for treating advanced dental disease.
Properly managing your ongoing dental care can greatly reduce the chances for higher expenses in the future. Here are 3 tips for staying ahead of problems that might cost you dearly tomorrow.
Practice prevention now. Dental disease doesn’t come out of nowhere — it’s the product of a bacteria-rich environment and neglect. You can help eliminate that environment by removing plaque — a thin film of bacteria and food particles built up on tooth surfaces — with daily brushing and flossing. Twice-a-year dental cleanings remove plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) you can’t reach with daily brushing. Reducing sugar (which bacteria feed on) in your diet and treating low saliva flow (which can increase decay-causing acid in the mouth) will round out your prevention practices.
Take care of emerging problems as soon as possible. Dental disease typically doesn’t go away by itself: more likely, it will get worse — and more costly — with time. Don’t wait to see us if you encounter tooth pain or bleeding, tender or swollen gums. In some cases, we can take temporary measures like resin-based fillings in decayed areas that can buy a little time while you prepare for the expense of a more permanent restoration.
Adopt a long-term care strategy. Our goal is for you to have as healthy a mouth as possible.Â To that end, we’ll work with you on strategy and payment plans that address your individual needs. A good strategy puts a priority on treating emergencies or advanced disease first, followed by treating less affected teeth as you’re able to afford it. We may also be able to address your tooth and gum problems with fewer but longer sessions that can help ease pressure on your costs.
Adopting solid hygiene and dietary habits now, visiting us at least twice a year and following a plan to treat problems as they emerge is your best approach for keeping dental care from making a huge impact on your wallet.
If you would like more information on managing your dental 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 “Cost-Saving Treatment Alternatives.”
While there’s usually a period of months between implant placement and the permanent crown, a new technique known as same-day tooth replacement installs both the implant and a temporary crown during the same visit. But be advised — it does have its risks and isn’t for everyone.
Successful same-day replacements require special attention during the three phases for implants: the removal (extraction) of the existing tooth; placement of the implant in the bone; and attachment of the crown, the visible tooth, to the implant. The tooth extraction lays the foundation for the entire process; the extraction procedure must be performed carefully to avoid undue damage to the socket. In addition, if infection or disease has compromised the site, an implant may not be possible immediately.
The implant must then be placed in the bone so that it’s stable and immovable. All implants stabilize with time as the bone grows and adheres to them, but we need greater stability for a same-day tooth replacement when an extraction is performed.
Our last consideration is positioning the implant so that the attached crown blends in naturally with the surrounding gum tissue and adjacent teeth. We must place it at the proper depth below the gum tissues so that the crown appears to emerge from them in the proper tooth length.
Taking extra care during all these phases, including the angle of crown attachment, will increase our chances of success. We still run a risk of implant damage or failure, however, from biting forces before the implant fully integrates with the bone. This means avoiding chewy foods and other situations that might increase the force on the implant. We may also use a temporary crown that’s slightly shorter than adjacent teeth so it won’t make full contact with the opposing tooth.
If you’d like to know if you’re a good candidate for a same-day tooth replacement, see us for a detailed examination. After reviewing your needs, we’ll be able to discuss with you the risks and benefits for a new look in one day.
If you would like more information on same-day tooth replacement, 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 “Same-Day Tooth Replacement with Dental Implants.”
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