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Dental Health and Cancer

Posted 11/24/2014

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  Today's title, Dental Health and Cancer, has to contain two of the more unpopular words in the English language. Sadly, however, the two are frequently related, and it is important to know the basics as you go through cancer treatment. I have been thinking, before starting to type, about how to make this a little more interesting, you know, how to add something to grab your interest. Telling you that it is good for you to know about dental health is not likely going to do it.

  Here is the best that I can do: Years ago, a dentist friend told me this little know fact, and I have wondered about it ever since. It makes no sense to me, but he insisted that it is true (perhaps this was a way of bolstering his own ego, who knows). Anyway, he told me that more women leave their husbands or partners for a dentist than for a man of any other profession. Go figure.

  Back to cancer and your teeth. The two dental facts that apply to everyone are these: before you start chemotherapy, have a dental appointment and a cleaning. If possible, have any work done before starting chemo. If that is not possible, or if a problem develops later, check with your doctor about the safe timing for dental work. It is important to schedule the dentist when your blood counts are normal.

  There are other dental issues that can be pertinent. Types of dental and oral side effects caused by cancer treatment may include:
Dry mouth (xerostomia)
Mouth sores (mucositis)
Tooth decay
Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
Difficulty chewing or opening the mouth
Bone disease
Inflammation or pain in the lining of the mouth and tongue
Some side effects may disappear shortly after treatment is finished, while others may be long-lasting or permanent.

  Most of us would prefer not to think about any of these things, but, if you have ever had a tooth ache or even a minor dental problem, you know how it takes over your life. And definitely not in a good way. This is a good fact sheet from ASCO's Cancer Net; this is another thing that it would be helpful to save or at least to remember where to find the information if you ever need it (and I hope that you do not).

Dental and Oral Health

A number of cancer treatments may affect a person’s dental and oral health. Dental and oral health refers to the well-being of the entire mouth, including the teeth, gums, lining of the mouth (mucosa), and salivary glands (the glands that produce saliva). Dental and oral side effects may make it difficult to eat, talk, chew, or swallow.

Besides your usual dentist, there are several other types of dental health professionals who can help with your oral care before, during, and after cancer treatment, including:

An oral oncologist, a dentist who specializes in the dental and oral health of people with cancer
An oral surgeon, a dentist who specializes in surgery of the mouth and jaw
A periodontist, a dentist who specializes in diagnosing and treating gum disease
A prosthodontist, a dentist who specializes in replacing teeth or other structures in the mouth


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