After months or even years of radiation or chemotherapy, the words "cancer-free" is music to your ears. Your joy and relief, though, may be tempered by the toll these treatments can take on the rest of your body—including your mouth.
Both of these treatments can destroy healthy tissue along with targeted cancer cells. If the focus has been on the head and neck regions, they could damage the salivary glands to the point that they won't produce adequate saliva flow.
A lack of saliva can have a detrimental effect on your oral health. Saliva buffers and helps lower oral acid levels that soften and erode enamel and increase the likelihood of tooth decay. Saliva also supplies antibodies that fight disease-causing bacteria. Otherwise, bacteria—and the risk for disease—can rapidly grow.
If these or other scenarios occur, you may experience dental damage, even tooth loss. Fortunately, we can restore an injured smile in various ways, including dentures, bridges or dental implants. But we should also attempt to limit the potential damage by taking steps to prevent dental disease during cancer treatment.
The most important of these is to brush and floss daily. Everyone should practice these hygiene tasks to remove disease-causing dental plaque, regardless of their health status. But because some natural disease-fighting mechanisms in the mouth may be disrupted during either radiation or chemotherapy, it's even more important if you're a cancer patient.
It's equally important to maintain as much as possible regular dental visits during cancer treatment. Dental cleanings provided during these visits remove any residual plaque and tartar (hardened plaque), which further lowers your disease risk.
Your dentist can better monitor your overall dental condition during frequent visits and provide as much treatment as you can tolerate. They can also enhance your protection against disease by prescribing antibacterial mouthrinses, fluoride applications or products to boost saliva production.
Some teeth and gum problems may be unavoidable; in that case, you may need post-treatment dental care to restore your oral health as needed. But caring as much for your dental health as you're able during cancer treatment could help you realize a better outcome.
Kill Bill fans have been pressing for a third installment of the stylized revenge tale since Kill Bill, Volume 2 hit the theaters in 2004. Finally, filmmaker Quentin Tarantino is talking about the long-awaited Volume 3 as if it might soon become a reality. The third movie in the franchise would most likely focus on the now-grown daughter of the character played by Vivica A. Fox in the first two. Vivica recently made known that should Kill Bill, Volume 3 go into production, she thinks 24-year-old actress and singer Zendaya would be perfect for the role.
Although Zendaya is a few inches taller than Vivica, the two women have a few things in common. Besides being talented movie and television actresses who have won awards for their roles, they both have camera-ready smiles. And both Vivica and Zendaya can thank their dentists for helping their smiles be their best.
In 2016, Vivica told Dear Doctor magazine that her smile needed a boost, so she opted for dental veneers to correct gaps between her teeth—and she's very happy with them. “I love my veneers!” she exclaimed. Zendaya also had help in achieving her Hollywood-perfect smile. In 2011, early in her career on the Disney channel, she wore clear orthodontic aligners to straighten her teeth. To further perfect her smile, she visited her dentist for professional teeth whitening in 2016, inviting a film crew along to show how easy and effective in-office tooth whitening is.
But you don't have to be a celebrity to enjoy smile-enhancing dental treatments. They are great options for anyone who wants to improve the look of their smile.
Teeth whitening. If your teeth are looking yellowed, in-office whitening can make them up to 10 shades brighter in one visit! Some people prefer professional at-home whitening kits, which produce great results more gradually.
Bonding or veneers. For small chips and cracks, cosmetic bonding can cover flaws by adding layers of a tooth-colored material over the tooth. For bigger flaws, heavy discoloration or gaps between teeth as Vivica had, dental veneers may be the answer. These custom-made thin porcelain shells cover the front-facing surface of the tooth, hiding imperfections to give anyone a Hollywood smile.
Orthodontics. Crooked teeth can detract from the look of a smile. While traditional braces are an option, many people with mild to moderate alignment issues find removable clear aligners the perfect way to get the smile they desire with minimal impact on their daily activities. Clear aligners are very subtle and can be removed for eating and cleaning as well as for special occasions—or for filming scenes, as Zendaya knows.
Contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation to see if professional teeth whitening, cosmetic bonding or veneers, orthodontics, or another dental treatment could enhance your smile. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Important Teeth Whitening Questions Answered” and “How Your Dentist Can Help You Look Younger.”
The worst outcome of periodontal (gum) disease is tooth loss—but it isn't the only form of misery you might suffer. One of the more troublesome results associated with gum disease is gum recession.
Normal gum tissue covers teeth from just above the visible crown to the roots, providing protection against bacteria and oral acid similar to the enamel on the crown. But advanced gum disease can weaken these tissues, causing them to pull away or recede from the teeth.
Not only can this diminish your smile appearance, but the exposed areas are more susceptible to further disease and painful sensitivity. And it certainly can accelerate tooth loss.
But there are some things we can do to reduce the harm caused by gum recession. If we're able to diagnose and treat a gum infection early while the gums have only mildly receded, the tissues could stabilize and not get worse.
The chances for natural regrowth are unlikely, especially the more extensive the recession. In such cases, the gums may need some assistance via plastic periodontal surgery. Surgeons reconstruct gum tissues by grafting like tissues to the area of recession. These grafts serve as a scaffold for new tissues to gradually grow upon.
There are two general types of grafting procedures. One is called free gingival grafting. The surgeon completely removes a thin layer of skin from elsewhere in the mouth (such as the palate), then shapes and attaches it to the recession site. Both the donor and recession sites heal at approximately the same rate, usually within 14-21 days. This procedure replaces missing gum tissue, but doesn't cover exposed tooth roots to any great extent.
In cases of root exposure, dentists usually prefer another type of procedure, known as connective tissue grafting. The donor tissue is usually taken again from the palate, but the design of the surgery is different. A flap of tissue at the recipient site is opened so that after the connective tissue from the palate is placed at the recipient site to cover the exposed roots, the flap of tissue covers the graft to provide blood circulation to the graft as it heals.
Both kinds of procedures, particularly the latter, require detailed precision by a skilled and experienced surgeon. Although they can successfully reverse gum recession, it's much better to avoid a gum infection in the first place with daily oral hygiene and regular dental care.
If you would like more information on treating gum recession, 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 “Periodontal Plastic Surgery.”
There's still much about the underlying nature of chronic jaw joint dysfunction we have yet to unravel. Treating these conditions known as temporomandibular joint disorders (TMDs) may therefore require some experimentation to find what works for each individual patient.
Most TMD therapies are relatively conservative: eating softer foods, taking anti-inflammatory pain relievers or undergoing physical therapy. There have been some surgical techniques tried to relieve jaw pain and dysfunction, but these have so far had mixed results.
Recently, the use of the drug Botox has been promoted for relieving jaw pain, albeit temporarily. Botox contains tiny amounts of botulinum toxin type A, a poisonous substance derived from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can cause muscle paralysis. It's mainly used to cosmetically smooth out small wrinkles around facial features.
Because of these properties, some physicians have proposed Botox for TMD treatment to paralyze the muscles around the jaw to reduce pain and discomfort. While the treatment sounds intriguing, there are a number of reasons to be wary of it if you have TMD.
To begin with, the claims for Botox's success in relieving jaw pain have been mainly anecdotal. On the other hand, findings from randomized, double-blind trials have yet to show any solid evidence that Botox can produce these pain-relieving effects.
But even if it lived up to the claims of TMD pain relief, the effect would eventually fade in a few weeks or months, requiring the patient to repeat the injections. It's possible with multiple Botox injections that the body will develop antibodies to fight the botulinum toxin, causing the treatment to be less effective with subsequent injections.
Of even greater concern are the potential side effects of Botox TMD treatment, ranging from headaches and soreness at the injection site to more serious muscle atrophy and possible facial deformity from repeated injections. There's also evidence for decreased bone density in the jaw, which could have far-reaching consequences for someone with TMD.
The best approach still seems to lie in the more conservative therapies that treat TMD similar to other joint disorders. Finding the right combination of therapies that most benefit you will help you better manage your symptoms.
If you would like more information on treatments for TMD, 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 “Botox Treatment for TMJ Pain.”
Besides straight and translucent teeth, an attractive smile has another important component: balance. In a great smile, the visible areas of the teeth and gums are in balanced proportion to one another.
But what is the ideal proportion between teeth and gums? Although aesthetic appeal is largely “in the eye of the beholder,” dental professionals typically consider a properly sized tooth to be around 10 mm in visible length. As for the upper gums, no more than 4 mm of tissue should show when smiling. Teeth appearing shorter than 10 mm or the gums displaying more than 4 mm can create an effect called a “gummy smile.”
Fortunately, there are different approaches for correcting a gummy smile, depending on what's causing the appearance of gumminess. Not only are there different causes, but they can be diverse in nature.
Obviously, an actual excess of gum tissue can cause a smile to look gummy—but so can shortened teeth. One possible solution called crown lengthening could help correct either possibility. During the procedure, we remove any excess gum tissue or reposition the gums after reshaping the underlying bone to reveal more of the tooth crown. Worn or shortened teeth can also be made to look longer with porcelain veneers.
A gummy smile could also be caused by a hypermobile lip, in which the lip rises higher than normal while smiling. We may be able to prevent this temporarily by injecting Botox into the lip muscles, which paralyzes them and inhibits their ability to move upward. A more permanent approach is to surgically restrict the upward movement of the lip muscles.
The gums may also seem too prominent if the upper jaw is longer in proportion to the face. One way to correct this is orthognathic surgery, a procedure that moves the upper jaw to a higher position on the skull. This can reduce the jaw profile with the face and subsequently affect how much of the gums show while smiling.
These solutions range from relatively minor to significantly invasive. The first step, though, is to find out what's really behind your gummy smile before taking the next step to make it more attractive.
If you would like more information on improving a gummy smile, 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 “Gummy Smiles.”
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