Posts for: May, 2018
Thanks to treatments like chemotherapy and radiation, your chances of surviving cancer are greater than ever. These treatments, however, often produce unwelcome side effects. Treating throat or oral cancer, for example, could damage your mouth's salivary glands or bone.
Saliva is essential to oral health, providing antibodies to curb the growth of disease-causing bacteria and neutralizing acid, which can erode enamel. But salivary glands damaged during cancer treatment may not be able to produce enough saliva. The resulting “dry mouth” creates an environment conducive to bacterial growth and elevated acid levels.
You can help reduce the effects of dry mouth during your treatment (and after, if the damage is permanent) by drinking more water or by using substances that stimulate saliva. Cutting back on acidic foods and beverages will also help lower your mouth's acidity. And be sure to keep up daily oral hygiene and regular dental visits.
The more ominous threat to oral health during cancer treatment, though, is osteoradionecrosis. This occurs when radiation targets specific areas of bone. The bone can lose blood supply and living cellular tissue, which inhibit its ability to heal or replenish itself. If this occurs in the jawbone of teeth that may be lost, the bone tissue could be adversely affected during healing.
Depending on your treatment needs, your risk for osteoradionecrosis might be unavoidable if teeth are to be lost. It's important we discuss that risk because it could impact future dental treatment. In the worst case, before cancer treatment, we may not be able to save affected teeth and your restorative options might be limited.
If your risk of osteoradionecrosis is minimal, though, we may be able to restore any resulting damaged or missing teeth with a wide range of options like dental implants or crowns before or after your cancer treatment.
As with other aspects of health, taking care of your teeth and gums while undergoing cancer treatment can be challenging; some problems may be unavoidable. But with a proper dental treatment plan during and after chemotherapy and radiation, we can minimize those problems and help to eventually restore your smile.
If you have a problem tooth we’ve recommended removing, those “Tooth in one day” ads—a tooth removed and an implant placed at the same time—might start to pique your interest. But there are a few factors we must consider first to determine if this procedure is right for you. Depending on your mouth’s health conditions, you may need to wait a little while between tooth extraction and implantation.
Here are 3 timing scenarios for receiving your implant after tooth removal, depending on your oral health.
Immediately. The “tooth in one day” scenario can be much to your liking, but it could also be tricky in achieving the best results. For one, the implant may fit too loosely—the bone around the socket might first need to heal and fill in or undergo grafting to stimulate regeneration. In other words, immediate implant placement usually requires enough supporting bone and an intact socket. Bone grafting around the implant is usually needed as well.
After gum healing. Sufficient gum coverage is also necessary for a successful outcome even if the bone appears adequate. To guard against gum shrinkage that could unattractively expose too much of the implant, we may need to delay implant placement for about 4 to 8 weeks to allow sufficient gum healing and sealing of the extraction wound. Allowing the gums to heal can help ensure there’s enough gum tissue to cover and protect the implant once it’s placed.
After bone healing. As we’ve implied, implants need an adequate amount of supporting bone for best results. When there isn’t enough, we might place a bone graft (often immediately after tooth extraction) that will serve as a scaffold for new bone to grow upon. Depending on the degree of bone loss, we may wait until some of the bone has regenerated (about 2 to 4 months) and then allow the natural process of bone cells growing and adhering to the implant (osseointegration) to complete the needed bone growth. If bone loss is extensive, we may need to wait until full healing in 4 to 6 months to encourage the most stable outcome.
If you would like more information on the process of obtaining dental implants, 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 “Implant Timelines for Replacing Missing Teeth.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”