Dentist - Dr. Amy Norman, DDS, PS

A Dental Visit Before Cancer Treatment Can Help Prevent Infection

Radiation therapy is one of the most common treatments used by medical professionals to eliminate cancer cells. The National Cancer Institute says that nearly half of all cancer patients are treated with radiation at some point in their treatment cycle. It works by damaging the cells’ DNA in order to stop them from dividing and destroy them.

There’s a lot of information available for patients regarding what to expect when faced with this intense treatment option, but not much on how it affects the teeth and mouth of patients.  Head and neck radiation can cause a number of complications when it comes to oral health. These include:

 

Mucositis

This is one of the most common oral health concerns caused by cancer treatments, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. It causes sores in the mouth and can make it difficult to swallow, speak and even eat.

Infections

The sores caused by mucositis can leave a patient at risk for infection. Since the treatments lower the bodies ability to fight off infection this can be a serious concern for patients undergoing cancer therapy.

Salivary Gland Disorders

Both sialadenitis and xerostomia are conditions cancer patients should be aware of. Sialadenitis occurs when the salivary gland becomes infected, usually by a virus or bacteria. Xerostomia is the medical term for dry mouth. Dry mouth may not seem like a big deal, says Dr. Amy Norman, DDS, PS, a dentist in Everett, Washington, but it can lead to a lot of oral health problems.

"Saliva is very important for the mouth and teeth," she said. "Without it, patients are at an increased risk for developing cavities and decay, sensitivity and oral infection."

Taste Conditions

When undergoing radiation and chemotherapy, a patient’s ability to taste can completely disappear or become distorted. It can also alter the sense of smell which in turn affects the way things taste.

Radiation Caries

According to the National Institutes of Health, radiation can cause something called radiation caries. Caries is another word for cavities or decay. This means the patient is at high risk for a lifetime of decay problems that typically start within three months after radiation treatment is complete.

The damage and side effects of radiation differ for everyone. Factors that affect the severity of damage include what kind of radiation was used, what the dosage was, where it was administered, and other unique circumstances of each patient’s treatment regime.

Because cancer treatment increases the likelihood of a patient developing oral health complications, it’s important to seek professional dental care as far in advance of the treatment as possible, says Norman.

"If possible, one month before cancer treatment, a patient should be seen by their dentist to correct any pre-existing oral health concerns," she said. "This allows the patient time to heal before beginning intense procedure such as chemotherapy and radiation."

Not only is seeking oral care prior to cancer therapy helpful for your oral health, it can help prevent infection which is imperative for your overall health during the cancer treatment process.

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