Oral Health Complications of Cancer Treatment

Jamie J. Alexander on January 31, 2018

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research reports that oral complications occur in almost all patients receiving radiation for head and neck malignancies, in approximately 80 percent of stem cell transplant recipients, and in nearly 40 percent of patients receiving chemotherapy. This latter is because chemotherapy often impairs the function of bone marrow, suppressing the formation of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. In addition, some cancer treatments have toxic effects on the oral tissues.
At Jamie J. Alexander, D.D.S., in Boynton Beach, FL, if you have been diagnosed with cancer and will have, are having, or have had cancer therapy, we will take a very active interest in following your treatment and helping you with any oral side effects. If your cancer is oral cancer, the oncologist specializing in oral cancers will carefully follow you and the development of any complications and manage these appropriately. If, however, you are receiving treatment for cancer elsewhere in the body, it’s likely you will be referred to me (your dentist) to help manage oral health discomfort and other oral health issues.

Oral Health and Cancer Treatments

Be assured that I would like to partner with you in carefully monitoring your oral health during and after cancer therapy to prevent, identify, and treat complications as soon as possible. In fact, if you have not begun treatment, it will be beneficial to see you right away to establish a baseline for your oral health and answer questions about the problems that may arise and how we can address (treat) those problems. This will make it easier for you to take side effects of your cancer treatment in stride. By working together, we can alleviate worry and do all that we can to alleviate the discomfort associated with:

• Inflammation and ulceration of the mucous membranes that is painful and makes it uncomfortable to eat, swallow, and speak.
• Infection due to viruses, bacteria, or fungus, resulting from dry mouth (xerostomia), and/or damage to the mucosa from chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
• Dry mouth (xerostomia/salivary gland dysfunction) due to thickened, reduced, or absent salivary flow, making it uncomfortable and difficult to speak, chew, and swallow.
• Changes in taste perception of foods, ranging from unpleasant to tasteless.
Other complications of chemotherapy may include oral bleeding from decreased platelets and tooth pain related to certain drugs. With radiation therapy, there is increased risk for dental decay due to dry mouth, loss of elasticity of the chewing muscles, restricting the ability to open the mouth and decreased ability to heal in traumatized blood and bone tissues. In many cases, dry mouth continues for years.

No matter what stage you are in for your diagnosis and treatment, we would like to educate you about the oral health changes you may expect during your cancer therapy and special home care for your mouth, as well as foods and beverages to avoid. Yes, there are special considerations for your oral hygiene and the changing effects that foods, beverages, and medications may have on your mouth. And, because your risk of caries increases with side effects mentioned above, together we can flexibly schedule you for more frequent exams and dental cleanings as your cancer treatment journey unfolds. With your permission, I will coordinate dental treatment and prescribed medications with your oncologist, with your best health outcomes always in mind.
It is an honor to be your dentist, and I care deeply about your health and any suffering you experience.

~Jamie J. Alexander, D.D.S., Your Boynton Beach Dentist