Chemotherapy, How It Affects Your Oral Health

Chemotherapy, How It Affects Your Oral Health

Chemotherapy, How It Affects Your Oral Health
June 30
12:27 2016

Chemotherapy takes a tremendous toll on the human body, as cancer sufferers endure gruelling treatments in their fight against their affliction. Yet what might not be generally well known about chemotherapy are the harsh side effects, particularly the effects it can have on our oral health and teeth.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), cancer patients face an abnormal possibility of developing oral impediments. Chemotherapy impedes and halts the development of new cells, including cancer cells and cells within the mouth, which hampers the capacity of oral tissue to generate new cells and therefore heal itself.

“Chemotherapeutic agents, designed to prevent or stop the growth of malignant cells in the body, can also adversely affect the growth of normal cells, including those lining the oral cavity and the salivary glands,” said Dr. Mohammad Hatamian, a Toronto-based dentist who practices at the Hatamian Dentistry clinics. “This may result in a reduction in saliva flow. Natural saliva has a cleansing effect in the mouth and teeth. Saliva is important for your oral health since it protects teeth from decay and prevents infection by controlling bacteria and fungi in the mouth. Reduction in the salivary flow, otherwise known as dry mouth, can increase the risk of tooth decay. In addition, chemotherapy can weaken the immune system, which could in turn increase the risk of gum disease and other oral pathologies, and slower healing capacity in the mouth.”

Despite the devastation of suffering oral difficulties following chemotherapy, Dr. Hatamian provided assurance that there are options available to treat damaged teeth.

“Depending on the size and position of the tooth decay, and the tooth itself, these options could vary from placing a white filling to more extensive treatments, such as crowns and veneers, in order to restore the function and aesthetics,” Dr. Hatamian explained.

For dry mouth, Dr. Hatamian stressed the importance of drinking water frequently during the day and, in some cases, utilizing prescription oral care products and medications that stimulate saliva flow. He also pointed out that chewing sugarless gum and certain foods such as carrots, celery stalks and cheese may help to cleanse teeth, strengthen gums and stimulate saliva flow.

Dr. Hatamian maintained that some forms of gum disease, such as gingivitis, can be treated. Deep scaling or gum surgery can remove bacterial plaque and build-up from the gums and teeth, and prescribed mouthwashes can help gums heal quickly.

Following chemotherapy, Dr. Hatamian stressed the importance of prevention by visiting your dentist more often than usual and flossing, and brushing at least twice a day with highly fluoridated toothpastes.

“For people with some underlying diseases, such as cancer, for which they receive chemotherapy, they might need to see their dentist and hygienist even three or four times a year to ensure that their entire mouth stays stable and clear of any tooth decay or gum disease,” Dr. Hatamian emphasized. “These people are usually more susceptible to a variety of diseases in the mouth. Prevention is the key. Once small problems [are] detected and treated early enough, major problems, such as loss of the tooth or root canal therapy, in the future can be prevented.”

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