Many of us know someone who has had cancer, or we may even have suffered from it ourselves.

Either way the good news is that survival rates continue to increase and the treatments for cancers are becoming more effective and less debilitating.

However both radiotherapy and chemotherapy, the two main treatments, do still have great impacts on the body, that includes the mouth, gums, jaw and teeth.

The impact on oral health will depend upon a number of factors, with radio treatment if the treatment is being applied to the head or throat then that impact will be greater than on other parts of the body.
Chemotherapy impacts on the bone marrow and can cause bleeding. Radiation treatment can cause susceptibility to bone necrosis and both treatments can increase the risk for infection: bacterial, viral and fungal. Cancer treatments can also reduce saliva flow and change the quality of the saliva leading to a dry mouth and de-mineralisation of the tooth enamel which causes sensitivity and decay.

Because of the increased risk anyone who is undergoing treatment or who is soon to start is well-advised to have a check-up with a dentist or periodontist to assess any problem areas in the mouth. Ensuring that oral health is in as good a shape as possible before treatment will lessen the risk of problems further on down the road.

In particular it is better to complete any invasive dental treatment before cancer treatments. It is equally important that the oncologist and dental practitioner are in contact and are sharing clinical data for the patient.

Some cancer treatments may mean that susceptibility to decay and gum disease will remain for life so it is important patients are informed and prepared for the necessary aftercare – such as use of fluoride gels and regular hygiene treatments.

Dry mouth, bone recession of the jaw, loss of teeth; all these impact on quality of life by impairing speech, ability to taste, chew and eat. The good news is that this impact can be minimised by ensuring that oral health is brought up to scratch and kept that way by educating the patient in good oral health methods, regular check-ups to spot early signs of problems and recommending preventative treatments.

Header image: “Chemotherapy with acral cooling” by Jenny Mealing – Cold mits and wine coolers!Uploaded by Steven Fruitsmaak. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons –