Cancer patients are prone to develop oral and dental conditions. This may be due to medications, chemotherapy drug side effects, weakened immune function and side effects from other treatments such as radiation. These oral conditions can include weak gums and teeth, dry mouth, infections causing more decay and cavities, mouth sores, dry mouth, jaw and oral pain. In case of oral cancers, the symptoms usually start in the mouth and the dentist may notice these before the patient. Oral cancer can be prevented by quitting excessive smoking and alcohol. It can also be prevented by making sure the patient is vaccinated for HPV. Regular dental visits can help keep in diagnosing the cancer early.
Dental health affects the overall health and so it is important that cancer patients do not ignore their dental problems and address them as soon as possible. Regular dental visits are also a must for cancer patients. Depending on patient’s condition and stage of cancer, it is helpful if the dentist is notified of the cancer treatment plan, schedule and type of medications or chemo drugs that will be administered. Sometimes cancer patients are terminal and require palliative oral care.
Effects of Cancer Treatment on Oral Health
As cancer treatments affect your overall health and immune system, it is important to ensure that your dental issues if any, are addressed prior to starting the cancer treatment. If there is an existing condition is urgent and requires immediate dental treatment, you should consider talking to your doctor or oncologist to check when if you should do the dental procedure before starting the cancer treatment or if it can be delayed.
Treatments such as radiation can cause damage to salivary glands which can lead to severe dry mouth along with changes in the consistency of the saliva. Dry mouth also leads to decay, cavities and infections. Dentists may recommend special care and treatments to address this issue.
Taking Care of Oral Health when You Have Cancer
Taking care of dental health all throughout cancer treatment and even later, can help to keep the side effects in check and allow you to heal in a better way. Make sure to involve your dentist and your oncologist in your dental care plan. Our dentists have provided certain recommendations for maintaining your oral health before, during and after cancer treatments:
- Schedule an initial dental checkup to let your dentist know about the cancer treatment plan and address any oral health questions you may have. You may also provide the details of the chemotherapy drugs and other details to your dental practice at this time. If there are any urgent issues, your dentist may provide treatment to get it done before your cancer treatment starts. A similar post-cancer treatment dental visit needs to be scheduled, in order to check for any new issues.
- A healthy dental routing must be followed. Brushing and flossing twice a day is recommended by dentists in order to maintain hygiene and prevent decay. Your dentist may also recommend rinsing regularly with saltwater or special mouth rinse. There could be days when you have no energy and are not healthy enough to standup and brush or floss. For these days, regular rinsing will help.
- Eating and drinking healthy foods and drinks is equally important before, during and after the cancer treatment for oral and overall health. Your doctor, nutrition specialist and oncologist will recommend the kind of diet you should have. Maintaining the diet recommendations is important as this will ensure good dental health and lessen the severity of the side effects of cancer treatment.
- During the cancer treatments, you may suffer from side effects and taking care of dental health can get difficult. You can always take help from a loved one and try to follow basic hygiene to clean and protect your teeth and gums. If there is an urgent need to address a dental problem, you will need to inform and or discuss with your doctor and the dentist about the treatment plan.
- The dentist must be notified of all medications and treatments that the patient is taking so that they can be prepared. Cancer patients can be on anticoagulants if they have a port for chemotherapy, the dentist needs to be aware of such a port because it may cause more bleeding and carries a risk for infection.