Each year in America, nearly 650,000 patients receive chemotherapy and 50,000 are treated with radiation to the head & neck region. Both of these types of treatment have side effects and potential complications with dental health.
Dental Exam Before Chemotherapy or Radiation
If you will be receiving chemotherapy or head & neck radiation, or if you know a friend or family member planning for either chemotherapy or head & neck radiation, we recommend having a thorough dental examination ideally prior to starting therapy. This exam should include a comprehensive evaluation for cavities and periodontal issues, and also a panorex xray. Also, make sure to ask your dentist if he or she is familiar with and comfortable treating chemo and radiation patients.
If you have recently started either chemo or radiation and have not had a dental exam, it is not too late. Having the exam and any needed dental treatment near the beginning of the therapy can significantly minimize complications, since the dental care is done before the effects of either chemo or radiation compound.
Oral Care During Chemotherapy and Radiation
Patients in the middle of chemo and radiation therapy have a different set of issues, which relate mostly to painful sores in the mouth and throat region. This mucositis can be very painful and limits the ability to eat and function. Usually these sores resolve after treatment; however, radiation patients frequently have permanent issues. At Wilmington Oral Surgery, our philosophy is to use natural methods to help patients. Stellalife VEGA products are an integral part of our treatment plan. Also, using coconut oil and raw honey as a mouthrinse can help reduce pain and inflammation. One teaspoon of both and a minimal amount of warm water can be rinsed for 1-2 minutes multiple times per day. Be sure not to discard it down the sink as the coconut oil can solidify and cause a plumbing issue.
Oral Care After Chemotherapy and Radiation
After chemotherapy is complete, many patients can return to a normal oral care plan, since the blood counts have returned to normal levels. Radiation patients, however, usually have permanent issues and need close dental monitoring. If surgical procedures are needed in radiation patients, we will need to coordinate the plan with the radiation oncologist regarding location and amount of radiation exposure.
Nearly every month we see patients who have had / are having / will soon have either chemotherapy or radiation therapy. As noted, both groups of patients require special attention to help minimize risks. Since time is of the essence, at the initial call please let our office know chemo or radiation is involved so we can expedite scheduling your appointment.
The NIH (National Institute of Health) has plenty of valuable information regarding oral complications from chemotherapy and head & neck radiation.