Dental Information Relevant to Your Cancer Treatment
We thank you for trusting us with your dental care as you move forward with cancer treatment. Below, you will find oral health information as it relates to your planned radiation and/or chemotherapy treatments.
Radiation therapy in the head and neck region helps to treat your cancer. It does come with future dental risks, however. This is why it is important for us to work with you now.
It is best to have any questionable teeth extracted PRIOR to initiating head and neck radiation therapy. Radiation may reduce your bones’ healing capacity for the rest of your life. Thus, we recommend removing any teeth that are severely broken, display signs of infection, or show moderate to severe bone loss (periodontal disease) now.
If we need to extract any of your teeth prior to radiation, you will be scheduled as promptly as possible with us. We do not want to delay your cancer doctor’s treatment plan. When teeth are removed, we will allow you to heal for 2-3 weeks prior to beginning radiation. We will also place you on preventive antibiotics after any tooth extractions are performed.
If you need any dental work performed related to cleanings, fillings, or crowns, we will also recommend that we complete those treatments as promptly as possible, prior to beginning radiation. We do not want cavities or chipped teeth to become significant problems for you during or after your radiation treatment.
Radiation therapy helps slow down fast-growing cells, like cancer. It can slow down other cells in the body that are very active, too, such as salivary glands. As a side effect, you may notice dry mouth. Saliva normally provides a good, healthy “bath” for the teeth. With less saliva, teeth are at higher risk for developing cavities. We recommend wearing clear mouth trays that can soak your teeth in fluoride gel nightly to help prevent cavities.
During your treatments, the radiation is focused to the necessary area as best as possible. You may also wear a protective shield on other parts of your body. Nonetheless, radiation can still affect the jaw bones and tissues. Over time, your dentist will carefully monitor your jaws and tissues for any abnormalities through the years, sometimes using x-rays called panoramic radiographs.
Life after radiation: You can still have necessary dental surgery performed after radiation. However, if this is years after radiation, your dental provider should collect information about your radiation history to evaluate your risk level for osteoradionecrosis of the jaw (ORNJ). Treatment decisions will be carefully made from there.
Chemotherapy helps to treat your cancer. It does come with future dental risks, however.
Chemotherapy drugs help slow down fast-growing cells, like cancer. They can affect other cells in the body that are very active, too, such as salivary glands. Chemo tends to slow down some of your salivary glands as a side effect, and you may notice dry mouth. Saliva normally provides a good, healthy “bath” for the teeth. With less saliva, teeth are at risk for developing cavities. We recommend wearing clear mouth trays that can soak your teeth in fluoride gel nightly to help prevent cavities.