Dentistry for Cancer Patients
When you are coping with a cancer diagnosis, your dental health may be the last thing on your mind. But the truth is that your dental health can affect the outcome of your cancer treatment – and your cancer treatment can affect your dental health.
Dr. Narra is skilled in providing dental care to patients undergoing cancer treatment. She has a deep understanding of the issues involved and is compassionate and gentle in her care.
We recommend that if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, come see us before you begin chemotherapy or radiation so that we can assess your current dental health and take care of any necessary treatment now, before your cancer treatment affects your immune system.
The Effects of Cancer Treatment on Your Dental Health
Chemotherapy and radiation treatment are both life-saving procedures and often the key to successful cancer treatment. As you are likely aware, however, they can have some uncomfortable side effects. You may be familiar with the side effects of hair loss, nausea, and skin changes commonly attributed to these treatments, but you may not be aware of the side effects that can happen in your mouth.
One common side effect of chemotherapy is dry mouth. This happens because chemotherapy can damage the salivary glands. Saliva is important for a number of functions including breaking down food, swallowing, and speaking, and saliva also helps keep the correct balance of bacteria in your mouth. Without proper saliva levels, you may experience dental decay, infections, sores, and gum disease. If you wear dentures, a dry mouth can also affect the fit of your appliance.
Saliva replacement products are available, and Dr. Narra can recommend a product that is right for you to help avoid the problems caused by dry mouth.
Scientists have also linked a commonly used chemotherapy drug to a serious condition called osteonecrosis of the jaw. When this happens, the bone fails to heal correctly after minor dental traumas (such as extractions) and can lead to infections and fractures. In time, long-term antibiotic therapy and even surgery may be necessary to bring the condition under control.
Radiation is also linked to dental problems. The reason that radiation therapy is effective for treating cancer is because it causes changes to the affected cells. The problem is that it’s not completely precise and can damage healthy cells as well – including those in your mouth. These changes can lead to dry mouth, decay, infections, sores, changes in your jaw bone, and pain.
Why Dental Treatment Matters
Ideally, people with a cancer diagnosis should see a dentist as soon as possible to get a current health assessment. If decay, gum disease, or other problems are present, we can plan treatment to take place before your cancer treatment begins. In some cases, however, it may be more appropriate to delay treatment until after your chemotherapy or radiation is complete. Dr. Narra will discuss your individual situation with you and create a treatment plan that’s right for you.
If you have active decay or gum disease, treatment now is especially important since chemotherapy and radiation can exacerbate these conditions. We can also provide treatment with fluoride to strengthen your teeth and help them better resist cavities.
We understand that you have a lot on your plate right now. Your dental health still matters. Give us a call so we can help.