Scheduling a dental appointment one month before starting chemotherapy or radiation therapy can ward off serious complications that may force doctors to delay cancer treatment, experts say.
Chemotherapy and radiation damage healthy tissue, sometimes including tissue in the mouth. Pre-existing dental conditions complicate matters, so patients are urged to see their dentist before cancer treatment begins. It’s important for patients to share their complete dental history with their oncologists as well.
“Patients need to let their dentist know that they have cancer and let their oncology team know they have dental problems,” says Bela Toth, D.D.S., a dental oncologist in M. D. Anderson' Head and Neck Center and a board-certified oral pathologist. ”If there’s enough time to correct the problems, that communication can spare everyone time, money and frustration.”
Unaddressed problems "will pop up during the most inconvenient times and stop or significantly alter the quality of their cancer therapy,” Toth adds.
Post-treatment dental procedures more difficult.
During chemotherapy cycles, there are times when white blood cell counts are high enough to support dental work. Not so with radiation therapy, which damages bone tissue and limits the body’s ability to heal itself.
Radiation therapy can completely damage an irradiated area, Toth says. “Any kind of oral surgery would require hyperbaric oxygen therapy to stimulate the blood vessels and improve the quality of the tissue to undergo that procedure. It’s a big hassle after the fact, expensive and time-consuming.”
To avoid such problems, Toth recommends that patients:
Schedule a dental appointment – Undergo a dental exam and cleaning before therapy begins.
Have their dentists contact their oncologists – Make sure their dentist is talking with their oncologist, or preferably, find a dentist with specialized cancer training.
Schedule enough time for dental work before treatment – It’s best if procedures including teeth extractions take place at least three weeks before cancer treatment.
Continue dental care through treatment.
Toth also recommends that patients receive specialized dental care during treatment. A dental oncologist can monitor changes in a patient’s mouth, such as painful sores, infections or damage to the tissues lining the mouth.