Posts for: December, 2017
As a cancer patient, you know how important radiation and chemotherapy are to overcoming the disease. But these treatments often come at a price to other aspects of your health, including your teeth and gums if the treatment target includes the head or neck regions.
Radiation and chemotherapy are effective because they target and destroy cancer cells. Unfortunately, they may also kill non-cancerous, healthy cells; in the mouth, for example, they can damage the cells in the salivary glands and disrupt their ability to produce adequate saliva flow, leading to xerostomia (dry mouth).
This could seriously affect your teeth’s protective enamel shell. As we eat or drink, our mouth’s pH level can become too acidic. Acid is your enamel’s primary enemy because it causes the minerals in the enamel to soften and dissolve (de-mineralization). Saliva neutralizes acid and replaces much of the enamel’s minerals.
Without adequate saliva flow, the enamel will tend to erode over time. You can further aggravate the situation if you routinely consume acidic foods and drinks, like sipping energy drinks or soda during the day. Once the enamel is gone it can’t be replaced naturally, and the teeth will be in serious danger of tooth decay and eventual loss of function and appearance.
To avoid these consequences you should take steps during cancer treatment to reduce your risk for xerostomia or other unhealthy mouth conditions: limit your consumption of acidic foods and beverages; use mouth rinses to counteract acidity and inhibit bacterial growth; and promote saliva flow through medication.
It may be, though, that enamel erosion and subsequent tooth damage is unavoidable. In this case, you may need to consider restorative options with artificial crowns or other cosmetic enhancements — not only to improve your appearance but also to protect your natural teeth from further damage.
Before considering the latter, you should undergo a complete dental examination to assess your condition and make sure you have adequate bone and gum support, and any dental disease under control. From here, we can go about restoring the attractive smile that may have faded during your battle with cancer.
If you’re considering different options for tooth replacement, dental implants are likely high on your list. Implants have a proven reputation for both durability and life-like appearance that can restore mouth function and revitalize your smile.
There is one aspect concerning implants, however, which gives people pause — the surgical procedure required to place the implants in the jawbone. If you’re leery about undergoing this procedure we can put your mind at ease — for most patients implant surgery is a minor, pain-free process with little discomfort afterward.
While there are variations in style, implants generally have two major components: a titanium post that’s implanted into the jawbone and a permanent life-like crown that’s affixed 6 to 12 weeks after implant surgery. Titanium is the metal of choice because of its affinity with bone cells; over time bone will grow to and attach itself around the implant, a process known as osseo-integration. The metal post is normally spiral in shape, allowing it more surface area for bone to adhere to.
In the beginning of the procedure we administer local anesthesia to fully numb the area before proceeding. After accessing the bone through tiny incisions in the gum tissue, we create a small channel in the exposed bone. A surgical guide may be used to prepare the precise location for the implant with a series of drilling sequences that increases the channel until it matches the implant size. While this takes place, you should only feel a mild vibration and a little pressure from the drill.
The implants are then removed from their sterile packaging and placed immediately into the prepared site. The gum tissues are then sutured into place with self-absorbing sutures. Most people have only mild discomfort after the surgery that can be managed with a prescription-strength non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen. We may also prescribe antibiotics and other care instructions to ensure successful gum tissue healing.
With proper planning and precise implant placement by skilled hands, implant surgery is an easy and uneventful procedure. And, with your new crowns in place, your new, beautiful smile will make the experience a distant memory.
If you would like more information on 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 “Dental Implant Surgery.”