Oral Cancer Patients at Risk for Dental Complications

According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 35,310 new cases of oral cavity and oropharyngeal (neck and throat) cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2008. An estimated 7,590 people will die of these cancers by the end of this year.

Oral cavity cancers occur most commonly in the tongue, floor of the mouth, lips and minor salivary glands. The most common treatment options for people with oral and oropharyngeal cancers are surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and newer targeted therapies.

Someone who is receiving radiation therapy of the head and neck area, or has a history of such treatment, may develop certain complications including dry mouth, sensitive lesions in the oral cavity, hypersensitive teeth, rapid tooth decay and difficulty swallowing. Chemotherapy can also have significant effects on the oral cavity.

To help prevent, minimize and manage such problems, the patient's dentist and oncologist can work together — before and during cancer treatment.

During the treatment period for head and neck cancer, the patient should gently brush his or her teeth twice a day unless a dentist recommends otherwise. The dentist may recommend a mouthrinse in addition to daily brushing. If the patient develops a condition called dry mouth, the dentist may recommend a saliva replacement, an artificial saliva that is available over-the-counter at pharmacies. Frequent fluoride applications may also be recommended.

Because any mouth infection may have serious implications, patients should contact their dentist or physician immediately should they experience any unusual problems with their mouth, teeth or throat.

© 2017 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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