Cancer treatment brings along a host of questions, feelings, and concerns. While oral health may seem like a small part of the equation, prescribed modalities often affect the mouth. But with the right strategies, oral wellness can be maintained with manageable side effects.
Cancer afflicts more than 1.6 million people every year, along with loved ones who share the journey. Fortunately, successful treatment modalities continue to emerge and more people than ever are winning the battle. But often the powerful medications used to target cancer cells also deliver challenging side effects. And while radiation techniques have become more precise in recent years, patients sometimes find themselves dealing with residual damage from their treatment.
Chemotherapy medications destroy cancer cells, but the fragile tissues of the mouth may also suffer from the exposure. Even though a particular cancer may be far from the head and neck region, a patient may find their treatment affecting the mouth. Chemotherapy agents can result in ulcers developing in the mucosal lining of the oral cavity and throat. If you've ever had a mouth or cold sore, you know just how miserable these raw areas become.
If you or someone you know experiences mouth pain during chemotherapy, options for comfort care exist. While a product like Oragel can be applied to mouth sores, it's often ineffective if multiple areas break down. We may be able to prescribe a mouth rinse formulated to soothe and coat painful lesions. Designed as a swish and spit formula, a simple prescription could help make life a little easier during treatment.
Radiation therapy doesn't typically alter the mouth. But if it's targeted around the head and neck region, the negative effects can be dramatic. The saliva glands constantly pump out fluid that coats the mouth, protects the teeth, and aids in digestion. Radiation that includes these vital glands can leave permanent scarring that reduces or eliminates saliva output for years to come. While there's no easy solution to radiation-induced salivary output, cancer patients deserve every option to improve their quality of life.
Dry mouth, known as xerostomia, leaves the mouth parched and uncomfortable. In addition, saliva plays a protective role against tooth decay. We help patients struggling with xerostomia find ways to increase their comfort while decreasing their risk of major dental problems. Specialty rinses, toothpastes, Xyli-melt lozenges, and other strategies can make a significant difference for cancer patients affected by xerostomia.
Some chemotherapy drugs create a small but serious risk of jawbone damage, known as osteonecrosis (ONJ). This condition is most likely to develop if a tooth requires removal, a dental infection develops, or gum disease is present. The best way to guard against this potential side effect is to have a dental evaluation prior to starting any chemotherapy treatment. Discussing oral health with an oncologist and dentist prior to treatment can help eliminate unnecessary complications.
Facing cancer involves many challenges, but our team is here to help you manage your oral health before, during, and after your therapy. Healthy teeth will add to the richness of the years beyond your treatment, so together we can develop short and long-term strategies for optimal wellness. Please feel free to discuss any concerns or questions you may have, and encourage your loved ones to maintain their oral health through their cancer care.