Grab Those Pink Ribbons… and Your Toothbrush!
As many of you may already know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is becoming exceedingly rare to find a person totally unaffected by the disease – be it an aunt, a sister, a friend or even a friend of a friend. Nearly a quarter of a million women in the United States alone were affected by breast cancer last year.
At Sporting Smiles Pediatric Dentistry & Family Orthodontics, our board certified dentists can provide insight into oral health as it relates to the treatment of cancer for both adults and children. Leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma are three common types of cancer associated with early childhood diagnoses. A pediatric dental professional plays an important role in the prevention, stabilization, and treatment of oral and dental problems that can compromise the child’s health and quality of life before, during, and after the cancer treatment. (Pediatr Dent. 2004;26:53-57)
If chemotherapy or radiation is imminent, scheduling a regular cleaning and examination with a dentist prior to the start of treatment is extremely important. Most chemotherapy agents suppress white blood cells, which protect against infection. A drop in white blood cells can make even the most routine dental procedures (deep cleaning, fillings and extractions) subject to the development of a serious infection. This is especially true in the weeks following cancer treatment. A dentist should always check with the treating oncologist to determine what, if any, treatment should be completed around this time.
At Home Care:
Maintaining optimal oral health through daily brushing and flossing is the key to preventing dental infections. For patients undergoing cancer treatment that develop oral irritation, mouthwash (alcohol free) and sponge brushes are generally better tolerated than conventional soft bristled toothbrushes and abrasive toothpaste.
A good rule of thumb is to avoid any dental procedures (deep cleanings included) immediately following chemotherapy or radiation treatment when the white blood cell count tends to be at its lowest.
If oral irritation develops, an experienced dentist can provide medications that will help the symptoms subside. Treatment may differ between doctors. There is no single regimen that has been proven to work every time. Most treatment is palliative in nature, addressing mainly the dental discomfort.
Mucositis, a severe inflammation of the mouth, is the most common side effect of cancer treatment next to oral thrush. Mucositis can be extremely painful and often prevents a patient from wanting to eat or drink, and sometimes it may even deter a patient from wanting to speak. In combination with appetite suppressing chemotherapeutic agents, mucositis can affect taste and thus take a significant toll on a patient. Staying hydrated and maintaining a nutritious diet is crucial for patients undergoing cancer treatment. Additionally, patients must make every effort to maintain good oral hygiene throughout this process.
Patients who have been treated with bisphosphonates should be made aware of the fact that there have been reports of a possible link between the drug and a rare condition called osteonecrosis, involving the jaw. Osteonecrosis often manifests itself with swelling, inflammation, localized infection, bone loss and sometimes even bone exposure. These symptoms may be triggered from routine dental work such as fillings, extractions and deep cleanings. If cancer treatment warrants the use of bisphosphonates, consider getting any needed dental work done prior to starting the medication. The overall risks are low, but patients should always be aware that they exist.
At Sporting Smiles Pediatric Dentistry & Family Orthodontics, we are board certified pediatric and orthodontic specialists happily serving the families of Gainesville, Bristow, Haymarket, Warrenton, Nokesville, Manassas and the surrounding cities of Northern Virginia. Our goal is to make every patient and parent as well informed as possible about dentistry and how it pertains to your general health and well-being. Our motto is healthy smiles for active lifestyles. Visit us today and let us help you Sport Your Smile!