The Importance of Oral Care During Cancer Treatment

It’s October and that means Pumpkins and Pink! Did you know that National Breast Cancer Awareness Month started in 1985 and since that time, there has been a steady decline in the number of deaths related to breast cancer (down 39% between 1989 to 2015). As with any cancer, awareness and early detection is the key. If caught in the early stages (stage 0 or 1), the breast cancer survival rate is 99%. While these cancer treatments are excellent at taking care of cancer, they can be tough on your teeth. It is important for your overall health as well as your dental health to take excellent care of your teeth before, during and after cancer treatment. Here are some of the major dental related issues we see in our cancer patients.

  1. Dry mouth – There is one common side effect with almost all cancer treatments…dry mouth. The decrease in saliva can be uncomfortable and also lead to a higher incidence in tooth decay and gum disease. Here are a few items we use to help with dry mouth.

  2. Water – Simple things like staying hydrated give your body what it needs to produce a proper amount of saliva.

  3. Sugar free gum – Chewing gum tricks your body into thinking it is time to eat, so you start secreting saliva to prepare your food for digestion.

  4. Xylimelts – These discs have a similar effect as the sugar free gum but last longer and can be attached to your gum tissue for overnight use.

  5. Biotene – From rinses to toothpastes, Biotene’s products are made to limit drying effects and maximize the moisture and lubrication of your oral tissues.

  6. Pilocarpine – Can’t find any simple solutions, Pilocarpine is a prescribed, daily medication that increases the activation of your salivary glands, thus producing more saliva throughout the day.

  7. Fight Tooth Decay and Gum Disease with Good Oral Hygiene

  8. Brush and Floss Regularly – Due to the lack of saliva, cavities can occur faster in cancer patients. It is important to keep up a good daily dental routine with brushing 2-3 times a day and flossing at least once a day.

  9. Prescription strength tooth paste – Most prescribed toothpastes have a large amount of fluoride. Fluoride is important in fighting tooth decay as it bonds to the enamel on your teeth making them stronger and less susceptible to breakdown by cavities.

  10. In-Office Fluoride Treatments – Just like the prescription strength tooth paste above, these fluoride applications are simple and effective at fighting tooth decay by strengthening your enamel.

  11. Preventative Dental Treatments – Proper professional cleanings and examinations are key to preventing early cavities, treating smaller cavities and keeping your teeth and gums healthy.

  12. Osteoradionecrosis – This condition is a non-healing wound brought on after radiation therapy.

  13. This can happen even years after radiation treatment has been completed and is very hard to manage.

  14. It is often related to tooth extraction or traumatic bone injury.

  15. As a dentist, we try to avoid any traumatic procedures in patients that have a history of radiation therapy in the head and neck area.

  16. It is important to have any teeth that need extracted done so prior to undergoing radiation.

  17. After radiation treatment, prevention is key to avoid any large cavities, broken teeth and the need for tooth extraction. Regular dental visits, in-office fluoride applications and prescription toothpastes are very important to patients with a history of radiation treatment to prevent the occurrence of Osteoradionecrosis.

It is important to take great care of your teeth before, during and after cancer treatment. You should always consult a dental professional as part of your treatment team. Don’t have a dentist? Give us a call 317-887-0700 to set up a consultation.

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