In the frenzy of decisions and preparations you are now faced with, more often than not, dental health is not even given a second thought, but this should not be the case. Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation often have negative side effects on your mouth and teeth. There are a few steps you can take to minimize the damage and at the same time reduce the unwanted and painful symptoms and complications you will experience.
Before Cancer Treatments
Visit your dentist to evaluate your dental health and discuss treatment options you should consider. Periodontal disease (gum disease) and tooth decay (cavities) should be treated. In addition discuss what preventive measures you should take, i.e. home care routines, fluoride treatments, antibacterial rinses etc. Prevention is the best medicine.
During Cancer Treatments
Consult with your cancer treatment team so that you can make your dentist aware of any special considerations that are relevant to receiving dental treatment.
What are the main oral complications of cancer treatment?
-Mucositis: Most people will experience some degree of mouth and throat sores. These sores make it difficult to eat, and at a time when proper nutrition is critical. Consult with your dentist or physician about prescription rinses that can help with this problem. These rinses may include some that simply coat and numb the tissues to minimize discomfort and rinses that help minimize the incidence of bacteria and fungal infections, and rinses that help prevent tooth decay and periodontal disease.
-Dry Mouth: In addition to increasing the mouth and tongue soreness, dry mouth puts your teeth at greater risk of developing cavities. If you are like most adults and have some degree of gum recession that has exposed the sensitive and venerable roots of the teeth, you will be even more at risk of developing cavities. The decrease in saliva is caused by the effects of the cancer treatments on the salivary glands, and often worsens with additional medications you may need to take.
Treatment for the dry mouth may include: oral rinses to minimize the risk of developing tooth decay, rinses to coat and sooth the oral tissues, professionally applied fluoride treatments, and home fluoride treatments.
-Infections: Because the cancer treatments will often weaken your immune system—your body’s natural ability to fight infection—you will be more susceptible to infections in your mouth. Treatment for infections may require you to see your dentist for treatment, antibiotics and antibacterial rinses. The best prevention for infections is maintaining very thorough oral hygiene, i.e. brush at least two times per day, floss at least one time per day, and rinse your mouth often.
After Cancer Treatment
After completion of cancer treatments, you should visit your dentist for a check-up and cleaning and to address any problems that may have developed. It is also very important to maintain excellent care of your teeth and mouth through proper brushing and flossing techniques. Your normal saliva flow (spit) may not return for several months or years, so taking continued preventive measures is critical to long term dental health.