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Maintaining good oral and dental health as you go through treatment for cancer

Oral and Dental Health

A diagnosis closely followed by a trip to the dentist might not seem like you are doing yourself any favours, but you will be glad that you went.

Dr Harris, a cosmetic dental specialist who works with cancer patients, suggests that a visit as soon as possible after diagnosis is your best option:

‘Before any medical treatment it’s advisable to be as healthy as possible, and that includes your teeth. Understandably, lots of people, forget about dental treatment when they receive their diagnosis.

‘Once treatment has started in earnest it may be difficult to find time to visit the dentist. Good dental habits reduce the chances of future dental problems. It makes sense to visit your dentist in order to take advantage of the latest preventive techniques, before you begin treatment.

‘Some large metal fillings can interfere with radiotherapy and may need replacing before radiation treatment begins. Equally, radiotherapy can impact upon bone healing even when treatment is over. This affects healing after extractions. It makes good sense to have any damaged teeth repaired in advance. Really bad teeth should be extracted at least two weeks before treatment starts.’

Even if you aren’t having radiotherapy, a trip to the dentist is a good idea. There can be significant changes in the mouth as a result of treatment. Dr Harris adds:

‘Most chemotherapy will leave the soft tissues of the mouth fragile and sore, meaning that brushing and cleaning may be uncomfortable. A dry mouth is often a symptom that has a big impact on tooth decay. It makes sense to get your teeth into the best condition possible before your treatment starts.’

Sucking on ice throughout chemotherapy can reduce damage to the mouth.22 Both Dr Harris and Prof. Thomas agree that ice is better for this purpose than sugary icicles or ice lollies made from fruit juice.

Dr Harris recommends sucking on slivers of ice, rather than crunching on ice cubes. The force required to crush an ice cube is greater than that required to crack a tooth. Biting the ice might result in a broken tooth and another trip to the dentist.

The great news is that, generally, there is no need to find a new dentist. Your usual dentist is more than capable of helping you throughout your treatment.

It might make sense for you to attend more frequently than your usual six-monthly appointments, as some of the side effects associated with chemotherapy can make regular dental care difficult. General soreness inside the mouth and reduced saliva ow can result in painful fungal infections and increased tooth decay, and crowns and fillings may not last as long.

Your dentist will liaise with your medical team if any significant dental treatment is required and refer you to a specialist should you need one.


Cosmetic Dentistry

Some chemotherapy treatments can result in darker teeth, and it is natural for you to want to get your teeth ‘pearly white’ once again. As with all dental treatments, the main issue is whether you feel strong enough to undergo teeth whitening during treatment or whether you wish to wait till your treatment is completed. Dr Harris tells me that tooth whitening is usually well tolerated.

As long as you are happy and the cancer specialists agree that treatment is possible, then any dental treatment can be carried out.

With correct preventive dental care, most potential problems can be overcome. It is best to get in early, though, so don’t delay in making your appointment. It could mean fewer trips to the dentist in the future. If you have any concerns about anything, consult with your dentist and your medical team.


You can find further information on good dental hygiene here 

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