Oncology Guide to Oral Health

  1. It’s common for patients who are receiving radiation therapy to the head or neck and/or receiving chemotherapy to have oral health complications. In the case of radiation, there is a risk of bone tissue dying in irradiated areas, due to restricted blood supply.
  2. The best course of action is to see Dr. Jay Lopez prior to beginning radiation therapy of the head or neck. He will provide a pretreatment oral health examination and appropriate advice for oral health maintenance and any needed treatment. If any oral surgery is needed, then, this should be done prior to radiation and the bone should have time to heal.
  3. Your oral hygiene regimen will be reviewed, and a schedule of recall appointments will be initiated, so Dr. Lopez can monitor your oral health, including jaw condition.
  4. During and after radiation, you may develop chronic dry mouth (xerostomia), and your oral tissues may easily tear. If these problems develop, they will limit the types of restorative dental treatment you should have. Dr. Lopez will provide treatment and ongoing care for these conditions, which may continue to be a lifelong concern.

With dry mouth, comes an increased risk of dental caries. Fluoride treatments and home care compliance will be more important than ever.

The oral complications of chemotherapy depend on the drugs used, the dosages, and whether you are also receiving radiation therapy. Chemotherapy suppresses the immune system, increasing the risk of infection. Please schedule an appointment with Dr. Jay Lopez for a pretreatment oral health examination.

Your adherence to the schedule of visits Dr. Lopez recommends will enable Dr. Lopez to spot dental decay early, you to report any oral health symptoms that are related to cancer treatment, and to receive oral treatment rapidly. Common problems include fungal, bacterial and viral infections; dry mouth due to salivary gland dysfunction (xerostomia); and taste bud dysfunction. You may have pain that mimics tooth pain, so this will need to be diagnosed. You may also experience gum bleeding due to an abnormally low concentration of neutrophils in the blood.

In patients with hematologic cancers, we need to check for immunosuppression or thrombocytopenia (an abnormally low concentration of blood platelets affecting the body’s ability to form blood clots) before any oral procedures.

You will be able to resume a regular schedule of dental visits when chemotherapy is completed and all side effects, including immunosuppression, have resolved.

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