Oral Side Effects of Cancer Treatment

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in October, we highlight some of the oral health side effects that these brave warriors might endure while battling breast cancer.

When a woman finds herself requiring treatment after a breast cancer diagnosis, it is understandable that the last thing on her mind may be proper oral hygiene. In fact, it is recommended that four weeks prior to initiating any cancer treatment, a patient visit their dental provider for a thorough evaluation. Not only do several cancer therapies commonly affect the tissues in the mouth and salivary glands, there are supportive care options that can be instituted to help minimize these uncomfortable side effects.

The side effects of cancer treatment can vary based on the type of therapy given. Radiation therapy to the head or neck can cause a decrease in saliva production which creates a high-risk environment for dental decay and infections. This type of dry mouth is called xerostomia, and it can allow the pH in the mouth to fall to dangerously acidic levels for tooth enamel.

When chemotherapy is given to a patient, it is very common to see the development of sores, mouth ulcers, burning sensations and tissue peeling that can cause severe discomfort. The nausea and vomiting associated with treatments can worsen pain and decay if not treated with an appropriate antiemetic. Other specific cancer medications and targeted therapies can also result in a wide range of oral problems ranging from mild pain to serious osteonecrosis of the jaw and loose teeth. Consultation with your dentist is imperative to help prevent or control these issues.

Techniques that may be suggested include brushing softly twice a day with a warm water-soaked, soft-bristled toothbrush, topical fluoride or fluoridated toothpaste, pain medication, and even specific mouth rinses. Xylitol is very effective in counteracting the low pH common to xerostomia and can be found in many different dental products. Irritating substances like alcohol, acidic or spicy foods, and sugary items should be avoided until symptoms subside. Fortunately, most oral side effects of cancer treatment heal with time and are not permanent.

We are honored to take this opportunity to help emphasize the importance of good communication with your dental professionals during any cancer treatment, and are happy to provide any assistance we can to help our patients dealing with this difficult diagnosis.

As always, the staff at Floss Dental Boutique is proud to offer more insight into how our oral health is intertwined with much of what happens to the rest of our body. Please schedule an appointment with your hygienist or Dr. Holloway if you would like to discuss more tips and treatments.

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