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.

How sugar in your diet affects your teeth

The sugar content in the food you eat has a big effect on your teeth and gums.

When bacteria (plaque) come into contact with sugar in the mouth, acid is produced, which attacks the teeth for 20 minutes or more. This can eventually result in tooth decay.

Thats why drinking sugar-filled sodas, sweetened fruit drinks, and non-nutritious snacks can take a toll on teeth.

This is particularly true for children as their eating patterns and food choices affect how quickly they develop tooth decay.

Foods that contain sugars of any kind can contribute to tooth decay. However, almost all foods, including milk or vegetables, have some type of sugar. Many of them also contain important nutrients that are an important part in our diet.

To help control the amount of sugar you consume, read food labels and choose foods and beverages that are low in added sugars. Soft drinks,candy, cookies and pastries often contain added sugars.

How your oral health links with your general health

Research has shown strong links between periodontitis (advanced form of gum disease) and other health problems such as cardiovascular disease, stroke and bacterial pneumonia.

And pregnant women with periodontitis may be at increased risk of delivering pre-term and/or having babies with low birth weight.

However, just because two conditions occur at the same time, doesn’t necessarily mean that one condition causes the other. The relationship could work the other way.

For example, there is evidence that diabetics are more likely to develop periodontitis and have more severe periodontitis than non-diabetics.

Alternatively, two conditions that occur together may be caused by something else.

In addition, people who smoke or use alcohol have a higher than average risk of developing periodontitis and other conditions, including oral cancer.

Research is looking at what happens when periodontitis is treated in individuals with these problems.

The aim is to find out whether periodontitis does have an effect on other health problems.

If one caused the other, improvement in periodontal health would also improve other health problems.

While the research is not yet conclusive, the potential link between periodontitis and systemic health problems, means that preventing periodontitis may be an important step in maintaining overall health.

In most cases, good oral health can be maintained by brushing and flossing every day and receiving regular professional dental care.

Dental plaque – what it is and how to avoid it

You’ve probably heard people talking about plaque and maybe you’ve some idea of what it is.

But its useful to know a bit more about it so that you can do whats necessary to minimize the risks.

Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on teeth and gums.

When you’ve eaten a meal or snack, the bacteria in plaque release acids that attack tooth enamel. When this happens regularly, the enamel can weaken. This eventually leads to tooth decay.

The food we eat often causes plaque bacteria to produce acids. So, if you eat a lot of snacks, your teeth may be suffering acid attacks all day.

If you don’t remove the plaque through effective daily brushing and cleaning between the teeth, it can eventually harden into calculus or tartar.

Another effect of plaque is that it also produces substances that irritate the gums, making them red and tender or causing them to bleed easily.

If you want to prevent tooth decay and gum disease, make sure you have a balanced diet and avoid having too many snacks between meals.

When you feel like a snack, go for foods such as raw vegetables, plain yogurt, cheese or a piece of fruit.

What to expect when having a tooth extracted

The process of having a tooth extracted may seem worrying but you’ll find it much easier if you know what to expect on the day and afterwards.

Your dentist will make the process as comfortable as possible for you by numbing the area around the tooth to be extracted.

In most cases, a small amount of bleeding is quite normal and your dentist will advise you what process to follow to allow healing as quickly as possible.

Generally, you should avoid anything that might prevent normal healing.

For example, it’s best not to smoke, rinse your mouth vigorously or drink through a straw for 24 hours afterwards as these could delay healing.

For the first few days, if you need to rinse your mouth, do it gently. If you are suffering pain or swelling, apply a cold cloth or an ice bag.

If necessary, your dentist will recommend something for any pain.

At the beginning, don’t clean around the socket where the tooth has been removed but you should brush and floss the other teeth as usual.

Modern procedures make having an extraction and the follow-up more comfortable than ever before.

The difference between canker sores and cold sores

Although canker sores are often confused with cold sores, there is a difference.

Canker sores occur inside the mouth, and cold sores usually occur outside the mouth.

Canker sores are small ulcers with a white or gray base and a red border. There can be one or more sores in the mouth. They are very common and often recur.

They usually heal in a week or two and rinsing with antimicrobial mouthrinses may help reduce the irritation.

Cold sores – also called fever blisters – are composed of groups of painful, fluid-filled blisters that often erupt around the lips and sometimes under the nose or chin.

Cold sores are usually caused by herpes virus type I and are very contagious. They usually heal in about a week.

Over-the-counter topical anesthetics can provide temporary relief and prescription antiviral drugs may reduce these kinds of viral infections.

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.

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.

How dentistry has developed over the last 300 years

When you visit a modern dental surgery, its hard to imagine the challenges of dental treatment without all the latest technology.

Yet specialists have been taking care of peoples teeth for thousands of years.

Here are some of the key developments over the last 300 years.

1723: French surgeon Pierre Fauchard – credited as being the father of modern dentistry – publishes the first book to describe a comprehensive system for the practice of dentistry.

1760: John Baker, the earliest medically-trained dentist to practice in America, immigrates from England and sets up practice.

1790: John Greenwood adapts his mothers foot treadle spinning wheel to rotate a drill.

1790: Josiah Flagg, a prominent American dentist, constructs the first chair made specifically for dental patients.

1832: James Snell invents the first reclining dental chair.

1841: Alabama enacts the first dental practice act, regulating dentistry in the United States.

1844: Horace Wells, a Connecticut dentist, discovers that nitrous oxide can be used as an anesthesia and successfully uses it to conduct several extractions in his private practice.

1880s: The collapsible metal tube revolutionizes toothpaste manufacturing and marketing.

1890: Willoughby Miller notes the microbial basis of dental decay in a book which started a world-wide movement to promote regular toothbrushing and flossing.

1896: New Orleans dentist C. Edmond Kells takes the first dental x-ray of a living person in the U.S.

1938: The nylon toothbrush, the first made with synthetic bristles, appears on the market.

1945: The water fluoridation era begins when the cities of Newburgh, New York, and Grand Rapids, Michigan, add sodium fluoride to their public water systems.

1950s: The first fluoride toothpastes are marketed.

1960: The first commercial electric toothbrush, developed in Switzerland after World War II, is introduced in the United States. A cordless, rechargeable model follows in 1961.

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

Some women worry about whether its 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 dentists advice and ask questions if you have any concerns.