Dental Cancer Care
Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgical procedures to the head and neck in particular have a significant impact on the oral cavity and dentition. A maxillofacial prosthodontist/dental oncology specialist can help prevent oral complications during and after cancer treatments.
If you are about to begin chemotherapy, it is very important to make sure that your oral dentition and gums are in good shape. During chemo your immune system will become weak and might not be able to fight gum or tooth infections efficiently, complicating your medical treatment.
Head and neck radiation will decrease the ability of your jaw bone to heal and remodel after dental surgery for life; therefore your oral health needs to be verified and achieved prior to radiation treatment, in order to reduce the need for dental surgery in the future.
Head and neck radiation will also change the oral flora and saliva quality of your mouth, which in turn will also increase the risk for tooth decay and dental problems. To counteract the side effects of these changes a prosthodontist will design a personalized oral hygiene protocol, including the use of tooth remineralizing agents and fluoride treatments.
The proper management of oral cancer is extremely important, but there are possible side effects that are known to occur during chemotherapy and radiation, as well as some that are known to develop after chemotherapy. Oral infections and injuries can complicate the treatment process, which is why it's important to seek help from prosthodontists both during and after your cancer treatment begins.
Chemotherapy and Radiation
There are a number of issues stemming from chemotherapy and radiation that can impact oral health. Oral mucositis, for example, is a condition defined by the development of inflammation and ulcers in mucous membranes. This inflammation and ulceration can lead to a higher chance of oral complications including pain and infection. Salivary gland dysfunction, also known as Xerostomia, is another issue that is frequently seen in cancer patients. This is a condition marked by an altered salivary function in the mouth, which results in dry mouth and can lead to difficulties in speech as well as the chewing and swallowing processes. Xerostomia also increases the risk of infection, and it is therefore very important that the issue be resolved.
Chemotherapy and radiation can also cause a patient's tastes to shift. Individuals might find themselves spitting out food that they've always loved, for example, due to a new, unpleasant taste that they perceive when eating. Some patients might find the taste of food to simply wane, with nothing tasting particularly good or awful. These issues can lead to poor nutritional habits that can, in turn, affect their already compromised health and further decrease their oral health.
In addition to the issues mentioned above, there are side effects that are unique to both chemotherapy and radiation, respectively. Chemotherapy, for example, can often lead to neurotoxicity, a painful condition that incites oral pain similar to that of a toothache. No solution or cause for the pain can be found when studying dental and mucosal records, however. Another issue caused by chemotherapy is an increased chance of oral bleeding due to decreased clotting factors and platelets.
Radiation can cause a number of issues to develop, including that of trismus. Also known as tissue fibrosis, trismus impairs the ability of the patient to open their mouth. This can be an issue for several reasons, not the least of which is the increased difficulty for both patient and physician during oral exams. Osteonecrosis also stems from radiation, and manifests in the necrosis of bone and blood vessels due to high levels of radiation. This impedes the healing process should any kind of trauma occur.
Oral complications are incredibly common in patients who are receiving chemo or radiation therapy, and it's better to stay on top of the issue than to wait until things become unbearable. Consider meeting with us both before treatment begins and after it concludes to examine any possible side effects that might develop. This helps keep the danger of oral complications at bay, and allows for the quick location and treatment of any kind of preexisting oral infection or issue. Meeting with us before and after treatment also helps to alleviate oral pain and reduce the risk of oral infections that could negatively impact cancer treatment. Helping to minimize pain and complications will also encourage a patient to complete their treatment.
Your risk for oral complications is not over once treatment concludes. In fact, there are certain issues that are known to occur after completing treatment. Radiation caries, for example, is a very serious potential complication that increases the risk of rapid and pervasive oral decay, and it can begin to manifest within three months after treatment concludes. It is important to pay close attention to your oral health and meet regularly with our experts who can help address any problems that may arise.
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