Lifesaver

Routine dental visit reveals patient’s life-threatening disease.

Artist Sarah Davis sometimes paints the two miniature donkeys that live on her property in DeLand, where she resides with her husband of 39 years. During the past several years, Sarah faced serious health issues, and their treatments devastated her teeth. It took a work of art to restore her smile and her self-confidence, and another artist to save her life.

Photo by Jordan Pysz.

Sarah Davis

“A few years ago, I was diagnosed with diabetes and a rare condition called MEN1, multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1,” she relates. MEN1 is a hereditary condition associated with tumors in the endocrine glands, including the pituitary gland and the specialized islet cells in the pancreas.
“My teeth started falling apart,” she shares. “I already had false teeth on the top, which didn’t fit well. Then my bottom teeth began crumbling. It was because of my diabetes and MEN1 and all the medications I was taking.”
The issues with Sarah’s teeth affected her ability to eat what she wanted. They also caused her to feel uncomfortable socially because she didn’t want others to see her failing teeth.
“I had a lot of trouble chewing and had to eat soft foods, sometimes baby food,” she shares. “I didn’t want to go out to eat because I couldn’t chew very well. And I was embarrassed of my smile.
“My teeth were all broken up and some were missing, so I didn’t feel like talking to people because I felt they were staring at my mouth. I also wasn’t able to pronounce words very well because of my broken teeth.”
In desperate need of good dental care, Sarah began looking for a provider in the area. Her son knew of a local dentist and recommended him to her. The dentist was Richard C. Montz, DDS, of River City Dentistry in DeBary. Dr. Montz did more for Sarah than fix her teeth.
Upon first examining Sarah, Dr. Montz noticed she had sores in her mouth. As a result, he and his staff performed a thorough oral cancer screening to look for signs of disease in her mouth and throat.
“We use a special light that helps us look for abnormal tissue and detect cancer,” describes the dentist. “It helps us find many cancers and often in their early stages, when they’re most treatable. It’s a critical part of the appointment because oral cancers are serious, even deadly.”
The tests Dr. Montz performed showed no signs of oral cancer. Dr. Montz nevertheless recommended that Sarah see a doctor to learn the cause of the sores before receiving any further dental care.

“Dr. Montz made me go to the doctor, so he was instrumental in finding my leukemia. . . . He saved my life.” – Sarah

“He was very concerned for me,” Sarah explains. “He wanted to make sure everything was okay, and my mom, my neighbor, my friend and my husband all agreed I needed to go to the doctor because I was gray, aching and not feeling well. I went and was diagnosed with leukemia. I had it in ninety percent of my body, and they gave me two weeks to live. However, I spent five months in the hospital.”
During that time, Sarah underwent intense therapy to treat her cancer, including chemotherapy.
“I had a bone marrow transplant and eight spinal infusions,” she recalls. “They needed to put the chemo into my brain, but the chemo I was on wouldn’t go into my brain, so they had to put it into my spine. Now, I’m in remission.”

Defining Dry Mouth

“Sarah’s oral health had been relatively stable before her medical issues,” notes Dr. Montz. “But when she started taking all those medications, it just devastated her teeth because a lot of medications are like battery acid. They completely destroy people’s teeth in a short period of time.
“Just in the last couple of years, I’ve had patients who were fine for years and then, all of a sudden, their teeth completely fell apart. It happened in such a rapid period of time, it was almost hard to believe.

Photo by Jordan Pysz.

Sarah works on her masterpieces with renewed health.

“The problem is that many drugs result in dry mouth and affect the salivary glands, which are critical in preventing tooth decay. The enzymes in the saliva that these glands produce help break down bacteria in the mouth that initiate the decay process.”
With reduced saliva, plaque on the teeth cannot be washed away, and the amount of friction in the mouth increases. The gums also become dry. These conditions are unhealthy for the teeth and other tissues in the mouth. If dry mouth becomes chronic, it significantly raises the risk for developing deep cavities in the teeth.
“If a medication is the cause of the dry mouth, treatment can be tricky,” states Dr. Montz. “The patient is taking the medication for a health reason, which may be serious, so stopping the medication is generally not a treatment option.
“Instead, to help patients taking medications that cause dry mouth, I can create fluoride trays for them to wear that really help stave off the decay process. I also recommend a rinse for dry mouth, such as Biotène®, which has a proven track record.”
Currently, researchers have identified more than 500 medications that can lead to dry mouth. These include medications to treat depression, high blood pressure, cancer, asthma and allergies, and even the common cold.

Artistic Creations

“It’s very important that patients report all the medications they’re taking, and if they start any new medications, when they come in for appointments,” observes Dr. Montz. “That way, I can better determine the likelihood they will develop dry mouth and can begin treatment to prevent decay.”
Once she was in remission, Sarah returned to River City Dentistry, where she underwent a total mouth restoration. Dr. Montz recommended removing all the broken and failing teeth and creating new upper and lower dentures. He also suggested using dental implants to provide more solid support for the prosthetics.
“He was concerned the dentures wouldn’t fit well without the implants, so I had implants put in, and the dentures just snap on and off them,” Sarah explains.
Sarah is very happy with the appearance of her new dentures. Instead of seeing broken teeth, people now notice her near-perfect replacement teeth and compliment her on them.
“Dr. Montz really fixed me up,” she enthuses. “He did a great job. The dentures look so real, and the color is great. They’re not bright white. They’re more of what the color should be. I like them because they’re very natural looking.”
The results of Dr. Montz’s dental treatment are works of art. The new dentures have given Sarah a reason to smile and the confidence to eat and converse with people socially. The dentures make a big difference in her quality of life.
“Now that my teeth aren’t broken, I can smile and speak clearly. I can chew steak, carrot sticks and celery – just about anything I want to eat, I can chew.”
When Sarah thinks about how concerned Dr. Montz was about her overall health when they first met, she’s grateful he’s a perfectionist. Without his prodding, she may never have learned of her cancer diagnosis and received the necessary treatment.
“Dr. Montz made me go to the doctor, so he was instrumental in finding my leukemia,” she relates. “He wouldn’t even touch my teeth until I went to the doctor. He saved my life.”

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    • River City Dentistry

      River City Dentistry focuses on their patients' overall experience. They strive for excellence in every aspect of patient care. They do this by maintaining the latest technologies, working convenient hours, and by implementing a comfo... Read More

    • Richard C. Montz, DDS

      Richard C. Montz, DDS, completed his undergraduate studies at Bowling Green State University, OH, and earned his degree in dental surgery from Ohio State University. Dr. Montz served as a dental officer in the US NAVY DENTAL CORPS from 1985 u... Read More