While undergoing chemotherapy can save a cancer patient’s life by eradicating abnormal cell growth, the therapy can also negatively impact healthy cells in the body. This is especially true when it comes to chemotherapy’s impact on a patient’s oral health. Patients undergoing chemo can suffer from a variety of oral health problems that involve the teeth and gums, the soft, moist lining of the mouth, and their salivary glands. The side effects caused by these problems can have a serious impact on a patient’s long-term oral health.
In addition to these oral health problems making it more difficult for a patient to eat, drink, talk, and swallow, individuals undergoing chemo also have a higher risk of developing gum infections, which can be especially dangerous when receiving treatment for cancer. If chemo patients experience severe side effects, they may need to postpone or reduce their cancer treatments until the side effects subside.
Oral Health Problems Caused by Chemo
The side effects caused by undergoing chemotherapy treatments vary depending on the patient. What side effects patients suffer from depends on the type of chemo drugs they take and how their bodies react to the therapy. Additionally, chemo patients may suffer the side effects of the therapy while undergoing treatment or shortly after their treatment ends.
Common oral health problems for chemo patients include:
- Pain, swelling, or general discomfort of the gums
- Dry mouth
- Swelling, burning, or peeling of the tongue
- Loss or change of taste
Patients experiencing any of the side effects listed above should immediately contact Dr. Berger to avoid future complications. Conditions such as dry mouth can increase a chemo patient’s risk of developing tooth decay, which can eventually lead to gum disease and an oral infection. Since chemotherapy greatly diminishes the effectiveness of a patient’s immune system, developing any kind of infection presents a serious health risk.
Why to See a Dentist
Even if you might not expect it, Dr. Berger can play an important role in your cancer treatment. If you visit Dr. Berger prior to undergoing chemotherapy, you can greatly reduce your risk of developing any oral health problems. In many cases, the side effects caused by chemo only occur because a patient’s mouth wasn’t healthy prior to undergoing cancer treatment. While not all oral health problems are avoidable, the fewer side effects you have, the healthier you will remain during treatment.
Ideally, the best time to schedule your appointment is two weeks prior to starting chemotherapy. This will provide Dr. Berger the opportunity to judge the current state of your oral health, and treat any preexisting conditions. If you don’t have the opportunity to visit Dr. Berger prior to starting chemo, schedule an appointment as soon as possible.
During your appointment, Dr. Berger will check the health of your teeth and look for any signs of decay, examine your gums for any signs of disease or infection, and perform a routine cleaning. Dr. Berger will also provide you with a few tips on how to keep your mouth healthy during treatment.
Keeping a Healthy Mouth
Since some types of oral health problems will become unavoidable during chemotherapy, it’s important that patients pay close attention to maintaining their oral hygiene. This means brushing and flossing at least twice daily and using antibacterial mouthwashes to remove any built up bacteria in the mouth. Certain side effects of chemo, such as dry mouth, may require additional steps be added to a patient’s oral hygiene routine like chewing sugar free gum, drinking additional glasses of water daily, or sucking on ice chips.