Cancer Treatments Affect Teeth

With over 1.4 million new cases of cancer diagnosed each year, it's likely that people in the field of dentistry are seeing patients that are undergoing cancer treatments. Because some cancer treatments may affect the oral tissues, you may want to know about potential treatment side effects. It's also important to know that preexisting or untreated oral disease may also complicate cancer treatment. If you are going to be undergoing cancer treatment, make sure to consult a dentist one month beforehand to prevent these kinds of complications.

Oral complications common to both chemotherapy and radiation

• Inflammation and ulceration of the mucous membranes.
• Infections: viral, bacterial, and fungal.
• Salivary gland dysfunction: dry mouth, reduced, or absent salivary flow.
• Impaired abilities to eat, taste, swallow, and speak.
• Taste alterations
• Nutritional compromise
• Abnormal dental development

Oral complications that stem from radiation to the head and neck, or from chemotherapy, may compromise a patient's health and quality of life. They can even affect an individual's ability to finish planned cancer treatments. For some, complications may be so bad that only lower doses of therapy can be endured, which results in a less effective result. Others may opt to postpone scheduled treatments, while a few discontinue cancer treatments entirely. Oral complications may also lead to serious infections.

There are various types of oral complications of cancer treatment; and degrees of severity vary from individual to individual, and also depend on the cancer treatment. The following is a list of common side effects, both to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. It is worth noting that alternative cancer treatments, such as
proton therapy can pose less risk of oral complications. This form of treatment targets a tumor so specifically that there is less dose of the treatment into healthy tissue. This particular type of cancer treatment is often regarded by doctors for patients with cancers in the head and neck, as well as for kids with developing tissue.

Preventative Measures
It is important that the patient understand that in order to reduce risks of oral complications during cancer treatments, he or she needs to have optimal oral hygiene, good nutrition, and avoid tobacco and alcohol. Taking these dental measures during cancer treatment will generally contribute to its success.

Tips for Maintaining Oral Hygiene During Cancer Treatment

• Brush teeth, gums, and tongue gently after each meal and before bed.
• Use an extra-soft toothbrush
• Use fluoride toothpaste.
• Floss teeth every day.
• Use additional fluoride gel treatments.
• Avoid mouthwashes containing alcohol.
• Exercise the jaw muscles a few times a day.
• Avoid candy, gum, and soda unless they are sugar-free.
• Avoid spicy or acidic foods
• Avoid toothpicks
• Avoid tobacco products
• Avoid alcohol.
• Keep all dental appointments.