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Cancer Treatment and Oral Health

September 9th, 2011

While oral health is always an important part of your overall health, it is even more critical when undergoing treatment for cancer.  There are many treatments that will effect the teeth and gums and the chronic inflammation of gum disease can lead to major systemic problems.
Chemotherapy will depress the immune system response to any infection.  What might have been a low grade oral infection that the body was keeping in check, will now be allowed to become acute and potentially quite uncomfortable.  Additionally, if a tooth needs to be removed during this time, the healing can be quite slow, allowing for more infection potential.
Head and neck radiation is perhaps the biggest challenge to oral care.  Radiation to the teeth and jaws can cause teeth to become brittle and become very susceptible to decay.  In many cases, the decision needs to be made before treatment is started as to whether or not to keep all the teeth.  Extractions done after the radiation treatment never heal very well and may cause more infection risk.
Caring for the remaining teeth is quite critical.  Oral hygiene needs to be at a very high level with thorough brushing and flossing several times a day.  This is often difficult when you are coping with the side effects of the treatments.  These may include nausea and dry mouth.  The temptation is to use sucking candies to help salivary flow, but this can lead to dental decay.
Please remember to include your dentist in the plans for your treatment so that proper treatment planning can be carried out to keep your mouth healthy through the ordeal of cancer treatment.
Some good hints to remember for helping maintain oral health during cancer treatment.  Use products intended for the treatment of dry mouth such as Biotene.  These products are sugar free and are safe for use.  A power toothbrush will often be helpful to maintain plaque control.
Finally, consider the use of xylitol mints to help control the bacteria that cause tooth decay.

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