Thanks to treatments like chemotherapy and radiation, your chances of surviving cancer are greater than ever. These treatments, however, often produce unwelcome side effects. Treating throat or oral cancer, for example, could damage your mouth's salivary glands or bone.
Saliva is essential to oral health, providing antibodies to curb the growth of disease-causing bacteria and neutralizing acid, which can erode enamel. But salivary glands damaged during cancer treatment may not be able to produce enough saliva. The resulting “dry mouth” creates an environment conducive to bacterial growth and elevated acid levels.
You can help reduce the effects of dry mouth during your treatment (and after, if the damage is permanent) by drinking more water or by using substances that stimulate saliva. Cutting back on acidic foods and beverages will also help lower your mouth's acidity. And be sure to keep up daily oral hygiene and regular dental visits.
The more ominous threat to oral health during cancer treatment, though, is osteoradionecrosis. This occurs when radiation targets specific areas of bone. The bone can lose blood supply and living cellular tissue, which inhibit its ability to heal or replenish itself. If this occurs in the jawbone of teeth that may be lost, the bone tissue could be adversely affected during healing.
Depending on your treatment needs, your risk for osteoradionecrosis might be unavoidable if teeth are to be lost. It's important we discuss that risk because it could impact future dental treatment. In the worst case, before cancer treatment, we may not be able to save affected teeth and your restorative options might be limited.
If your risk of osteoradionecrosis is minimal, though, we may be able to restore any resulting damaged or missing teeth with a wide range of options like dental implants or crowns before or after your cancer treatment.
As with other aspects of health, taking care of your teeth and gums while undergoing cancer treatment can be challenging; some problems may be unavoidable. But with a proper dental treatment plan during and after chemotherapy and radiation, we can minimize those problems and help to eventually restore your smile.