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Dental hygiene for cancer patients

dental-hygiene-for-cancerEvery day, dental professionals see a variety of patients with all different kinds of health issues and oral complications. Research shows that many systemic diseases have oral side effects that can potentially be life-threatening if treatment is not administered. A majority of patients, however, are unaware of this, and often underestimate the importance of maintaining good oral health.

One disease associated with serious oral health problems is the second leading cause of death in Americans today — cancer. It is estimated that up to 50 percent of all men, and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime. This means that they will also have a significantly higher risk of developing oral disease due to the side effects of cancer therapy.

One of the most important things cancer patients must do is schedule a complete oral hygiene exam one week before the first (or next) session of chemotherapy. It is best to schedule the exam at the end of the day so the hygienist has ample time to explain how oral care needs to be integrated with their overall treatment plan.

Patients should also come to the exam with a detailed medical history, and complete contact information for all health providers involved in their cancer therapy, including:

  • Medical oncologist
  • Nurse practitioner
  • Radiation oncologist
  • Family practitioner

It is also important for patients to bring the results of their latest blood work, and a complete history of any over-the-counter or prescription drug use.

In addition, patients should ask their medical oncologist to provide a full list of the chemotherapeutic agents that will be used in their cancer treatment. The dental hygienist will then be able to assess which ones could potentially develop oral side effects, and accommodate the treatment plan according to those findings.

The rest of the hygiene exam should include a routine assessment of the patient’s oral health. This includes a dental prophylaxis, periodontal exam, and a full-series of x-rays. If any serious decay or disease is detected, all operative procedures (including tooth extractions) need to be done before the first session of chemotherapy.

Outside the dental office, it is up to the patient to maintain good oral hygiene, and take preventive measures to diminish their risk of oral diseases. One of the best ways they can do this to perform a self-examination inside the mouth on a regular basis. Patients should look for swollen or bleeding gums, and any off-colored spots or dark patches. Other symptoms to identify are: dry mouth (xerostomia), ulcerations, cold sores, pain, and tooth sensitivity.

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