A dental visit is probably the last thing on your mind if you’ve been told you have cancer. However, 40% of chemotherapy patients develop oral complications. With a bone marrow transplant, the number goes up to 75% and radiation to the head or neck region almost ensures oral problems. These oral complications can interfere with your cancer treatment schedule, so your dentist and cancer doctor need to work together. Your dentist will help protect your mouth, teeth, and jaw bones from damage caused by radiation and chemotherapy.
Ideally, you should see your dentist for an exam and cleaning before starting cancer treatment. Some dental care, such as tooth removal, is best done beforehand because cancer treatments can change your jaw bone, and any areas of dental infection need to be resolved so that they will not cause a problem when your immune system is depressed during cancer therapy. While nothing can guarantee that you won’t have some oral side effects from cancer treatment, having a healthy mouth minimizes them. Pre-treatment oral care reduces the risk of severe oral complications including pain, improves the likelihood that you can have the optimum schedule and dose for your cancer treatment, prevents or reduces later instances of bone necrosis, and generally improves your quality of life while undergoing cancer treatment.
The most common oral complications are:
- Inflammation of the tissues of your mouth—results in soreness or ulcerations and increases the risk of pain, local or systemic infections, and poor nutrition.
- Infection—results from the combination of the depressed immune system and damaged soft oral tissues that allow bacteria, viruses and fungi to enter your body.
- Dental decay and tooth erosion—results from acids in vomit, from changes to the amount and type of saliva or from radiation to the head or neck region.
- Dry Mouth—results from changes to amount and type of saliva or damage to the salivary glands.
- Bleeding—results from low platelet levels and provides an opportunity for bacteria, viruses and fungi to enter your bloodstream.
- Taste Alteration—results from changes to saliva and from medications and can range from mild to severe to loss of taste. May contribute to nutritional deficiencies.
Besides the dental visit you should make before starting any treatment, you can also care for your teeth and mouth at home. Your dental hygiene routine should include gently brushing your teeth and tongue with a soft toothbrush after every meal, after vomiting, and at bedtime; gently flossing your teeth once a day; keeping your mouth moist by rinsing often with water and checking your teeth and gums daily so you can report any changes to your dentist and cancer doctor immediately.
*Note: Information in this article is not meant to replace the advice of your healthcare providers.
Dr. Jennifer Robb is a general dentist who sees both adults and children at her office located at 1320 Cooper Foster Park Rd., Lorain, OH 44053. Though we are booked, if you do have cancer, please let us know when you call, and we will try to work you in prior to your cancer treatment. Call 440-960-1940