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Cancer Treatment Offers Oral Health Challenges

Cancer survival rates continue to improve, which is good news.  However, current cancer treatments can lead to oral health issues and affect a patient's quality of life, so it's important that cancer patient work closely with not only their physician, but their dentist.

As a starting point, the National Institutes of Health recommend that every cancer patient receive a dental evaluation before beginning their cancer treatment.  This is an important time to examine the person's oral health and remove any potential sources of infection. It also creates a baseline so the dentist can identify any unusual change that might be a direct result of the treatment.

The actual cancer treatment can also be a challenge for oral health:

  • The process of cell division may be inhibited, leading to thinner tissues in the mouth and upper esophagus. In just a matter of days, this can affect otherwise normal chewing and swallowing functions.
  • White blood cell counts may drop. This can lead to a reduced ability to fight infections in the mouth.
  • Saliva production may decrease. This can lead to a sore throat, as well as difficulty speaking and eating. Before starting treatment, the patient should ask his or her dentist to make recommendations for how to treat dry mouth symptoms.

Fortunately, the pre-treatment oral evaluation and frequent dental appointments during the cancer treatment can help to reduce some of these effects and risks. The bottom line: cancer patients should stay in contact with their dental professional before, during and after cancer treatment, as it will improve their quality of life.

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