Oral Cancer: Dentistry and the Oncologic Team

Patients diagnosed with oral cancer tend to mistakenly abandon their dentists for an Oncologic team comprised of Medical Oncology, Radiation Oncology, and potentially Surgical Oncology. While these specialists administer treatment for oral cancer, potential side effects in the mouth shouldn’t be overlooked.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USHHS) recommends visiting a dentist PRIOR to beginning radiation and/or chemotherapy. The dentist can help protect your teeth, mouth, and bones from potential harm caused by radiation and/or chemotherapy. This could prevent or minimize pain as well as long term damage to your teeth and bones.

Additionally, it is the dentist’s responsibility to communicate with Medical Oncologists to determine if there are any contraindications to medications that the dentist may use during dental treatment. If immunocompromised, there is an increased risk for abscesses or infections. Chemotherapies can be stomatotoxic which essentially means treatments that cause damage to the mucuous membranes.

Chemotherapies can cause:

  • Painful mouth and gums
  • Impaired ability to eat, taste, swallow or speak
  • Dry mouth
  • Thickened saliva
  • Burning, peeling, or swelling tongue
  • Infection
  • Taste alterations
  • Tooth decay
  • Abnormal dental development
  • Bone disease
  • Jaw stiffness

The Importance of Pre-Treatment Oral Care

An evaluation by a dentist before beginning cancer treatment can help with the following:

  • Minimize or prevent oral pain
  • Minimize or prevent infections
  • Identification of existing infections
  • Reduce the risk of oral complications
  • Prevent or reduce later incidence of bone necrosis

During Cancer Treatment

  1. Brush your teeth, scrape your tongue, and floss after every meal and before sleeping
  2. Your mouth may be sensitive. Consider a toothbrush with softer bristles
  3. Avoid mouthwashes with alcohol
  4. Keep your mouth moist with a saliva substitute. Stay hydrated.
  5. Protect your mouth with lukewarm foods and drinks
  6. Avoid spicy, sour, or crunchy foods and drinks
  7. Avoid tobacco and alcohol







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