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Is Chemotherapy Causing Problems with Your Mouth and Gums?


Posted on 10/15/2015 by Dr. Dennison
A woman receiving a chemotherapy treatment.If you are going through chemotherapy, you likely have a lot on your plate in terms of your health. However, some people don't understand that these treatment options could be affecting their mouth and gums, and proper precautions need to be taken to keep your mouth healthy.

Additionally, most dental professionals recommend that you go through a pretreatment oral evaluation to ensure that any existing infections are cleared up prior to chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy and the Mouth

Chemotherapy consists of drugs that are used to fight cancer. While these drugs will kill cancer cells, they can also harm the healthy cells, including those within your mouth. Side effects can be experienced with your teeth, gums, and even salivary glands, and these side effects can make it difficult to swallow, talk, or eat. While you are going through chemotherapy, you may also be more likely to develop an infection in your mouth, which could be potentially dangerous while you are going through cancer treatments.

As you go through chemotherapy, you may notice certain side effects going on inside of your mouth. They could be short-term or last for your entire treatment, and these side effects are unique depending on the patient. However, some of the most common include:

•  Oral mucositis. This involves an ulceration and inflammation of the mucous membranes, and it can increase the risk or pain and infection.
•  Functional disabilities. Cancer treatments can impair your ability to swallow, taste, speak, or eat due to dry mouth, mucositis, infection, or trismus.
•  Infection. Fungal, bacterial, and viral infections may result from xerostomia, myelosuppression, and mucosa damage due to chemotherapy.
•  Taste alterations, as chemotherapy can result in changes to taste perception.

Risk Factors

Not everyone that is going through chemotherapy will develop problems with the mouth and gums. However, the risk for oral complications may be classified as either low or high:
•  Low risk. Patients who are receiving minimally nonmyelosuppresive or myelosuppresive chemotherapy.
•  High risk. Patients receiving a type of chemotherapy known as stomatotoxic that results in prolonged myelosupression.

Pretreatment Oral Care

If you will be starting cancer treatments, it is recommended that you visit your dentist for a thorough oral evaluation before you begin. Pretreatment can achieve a variety of important goals:

•  Reduce the risk of developing severe oral complications
•  Allows for immediate treatment and identification of existing problems and infections
•  Improves the chances that you'll successfully complete your chemotherapy
•  Reduces or prevents oral pain
•  Reduces the risk of complications that could compromise your nutrition
•  Minimizes the chance for oral infections
•  Improves or preserves your oral health
•  Decreases the cost of future dental care in the event of a problem

In an ideal situation, this evaluation should be completed one month prior to your first chemotherapy appointment, but most dental offices understand that this isn't always possible. This evaluation will include an examination of both the soft and hard tissues, and your dentist will likely take X-rays to determine whether there are any existing signs of infection. If infections are noted, it is important that they are treated as soon as possible.

During this evaluation, your dentist may also conduct a thorough prosthodontics exam if needed. If you wear removable dentures, it is important that the appliance is well adapted to the gum tissue and that you are doing a good job of keeping it clean. If possible, you shouldn't wear the prosthesis during treatment, and definitely be sure to remove it at night.

If problems are identified and it is determined that you will need oral surgery, it is important to get the timing right. Oral surgery should be performed a minimum of one week to ten days prior to receiving chemotherapy. You should also have a medical consultation done before any invasive surgical procedure is complete.

If you have any questions about your chemotherapy's affects on your oral health please contact us today!
University Periodontal Associates
3100 Richmond Ave, Suite 509
Houston, TX 77098

Phone (832) 975-0990

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