By Michelle Bishop, DDS

In 2016, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer was diagnosed in the United States and 595,690 people died from the disease. Those are staggering numbers if you think about it. Of those people receiving treatment for their cancer 40% will develop oral complications regardless of the location of the cancer.

Cancer treatments whether radiation or chemotherapy can wreak havoc on your immune system and weaken it making you more susceptible to infections.  It can affect your salivary glands and reduce salivary flow causing dry mouth which in turn can cause dental sores and cavities.

Before, during and after cancer treatment it is essential to do everything possible to keep the mouth clean and free of bacteria.

So what can you and your dentist do to help with those complications?

Let’s talk about 3 different stages of dental care needed with your cancer diagnosis:

  1. Before cancer treatment dental care
  2. During cancer treatment dental care
  3. After cancer treatment dental care

Before any cancer treatment begins you should see your dentist for a complete exam and x-rays to rule out any dental infections, areas of decay or periodontal disease. Any of these can delay your cancer treatment or cause complications with your treatment.  Your dentist will also discuss side effects usually seen during your type of cancer treatment and some remedies that are available to help with the side effects.  Your dentist may recommend fluoride trays be made ahead of any radiation to the head and neck. Radiation to the head and neck area can reduce salivary flow which can lead to rampant cavities. The fluoride trays are used with a small amount of fluoride that is allowed to sit along the teeth and gums and help prevent those cavities.

During cancer treatment you want to follow your regularly scheduled hygiene appointments so your dentist is able to stay on top of any cavities that have started, help you with any hygiene concerns and most importantly perform oral cancer exams to ensure that no signs of metastasis have arisen in the mouth. Some side effects from chemotherapy or radiation can include painful mouth sores. Your dentist can discuss options to help with those including warm salt water rinses or prescription rinses that can coat the mouth and provide pain relief.

Cancer treatments whether radiation or chemotherapy can wreak havoc on your immune system and weaken it making you more susceptible to infections.

After cancer treatment it is recommended to continue with your scheduled appointments as some salivary glands do not return to normal function after treatment and monitoring for rampant decay is important. Oral cancer exams should be performed regularly as well.

Before, during and after cancer treatment it is essential to do everything possible to keep the mouth clean and free of bacteria. Brushing your teeth often and flossing daily will help keep cavities at bay. Drinking lots of water as opposed to sugary sodas, juices, sports drinks or alcohol will help keep the mouth hydrated.  Avoid spicy and hard foods if mouth sores or sensitive gums are present.  Take the time to talk to your dentist about your cancer diagnosis and let them help you keep your mouth healthy during the process.

To make an appointment visit smile.ingramhillsdental.com or call 210.625.7040.

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