Understanding Chemotherapy-Related Dental Health Risks & Treatment Options

17 September 2015
 Categories: Dentist, Articles

When you start chemotherapy, you may be surprised to find out that your mouth and teeth are as affected by the treatment as the rest of your body. In fact, the tissue inside your mouth can be highly sensitive, which makes it vulnerable to many side effects from chemotherapy treatment. In addition to making sure that your dentist knows you're undergoing chemotherapy, there are some common side effects that you should watch for.

Dental Issues Chemotherapy Can Cause

When you receive chemotherapy treatment, it can lower your blood cell counts. This may interfere with your circulation, which ultimately damages your jawbone. This poor circulation can also increase the frequency of bruising and bleeding from your gums, such as when you brush your teeth.

Some chemotherapy patients also find that they're vulnerable to pain, pressure and other discomfort, including irritation in the gums and tooth pain. Chemotherapy's nausea and vomiting side effects also damage your teeth. Vomiting erodes your tooth enamel, which may eventually expose dentin and cause long-term damage.

Chemotherapy is also known for causing mouth sores and gum tissue swelling. You may also find that your taste buds are less sensitive. Some forms of chemotherapy treatment can even cause severe dry mouth.

Tips for Reducing Your Risk

There are a few things that you can do to control your risk of dental side effects from chemotherapy. Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Visit Your Dentist FrequentlyYour dentist may suggest that you make more frequent visits while you're going through chemotherapy treatment. These frequent visits give your dentist the opportunity to monitor the general condition of your mouth and gums. And, the sooner you identify a potential problem, the sooner your dentist can intervene and help you with solutions.
  • Be Attentive to BrushingOne of the most important things to remember when you're undergoing chemotherapy is that you need to make sure you're brushing several times a day. If you're struggling with vomiting, brush after every occurrence to protect your teeth from erosion. Also, choose a soft brush so that you don't cause damage to your already-sensitive gums.
  • Stay Hydrated—Make an effort to drink as much water as you can keep down when you're undergoing chemotherapy. Not only is it important to keep hydrated, but the more you're drinking, the less bacteria has time to grow in your mouth. The water rinses bacteria away, potentially reducing the risk of infection. If you have cavities, ask your dentist about a solution of baking soda, salt and warm water to rinse with.
  • Care For Your Dentures—As a denture wearer, you'll want to inquire with your denturist about having your dentures adjusted so that they fit properly. You don't want to have your dentures shifting, because that can cause intense gum irritation when paired with the sensitivity of chemotherapy. The irritation can even lead to sores, which may ultimately become infected because of your compromised immune system from the chemotherapy treatment.

If the information presented here doesn't give you enough relief, talk with local dental services about the problems that you're experiencing. He or she can provide you with some more professional intervention to help ease your discomfort. With the support of a skilled healthcare team and dentist, you'll be able to protect your teeth and minimize the serious health risks that you could face throughout your treatments.

If you've had dental problems in the past, it's especially important that you start working with a dentist as soon as possible after starting chemotherapy. Those prior issues may make you more prone to some of these complications. Ask your oncologist about a dentist who specializes in caring for patients who are undergoing cancer treatments.