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Cancer Treatment

Cancer treatment(s) such as chemotherapy and radiation can have oral side effects, which may be temporary or long-term.

These side effects can include soreness and ulcers in the mouth, gum (periodontal) infections, bleeding gums, dry mouth (xerostomia) and altered taste. The dentist is best placed to assess the health of your teeth and mouth, ideally before treatment(s), to determine if any dental work is needed, by them or a specialist. Additional dental treatment options are available to alleviate side effects, during and after cancer treatment(s). Patients at the highest risk of oral complications include those receiving radiation to the head and neck region, those who require bone marrow transplants, or patients receiving specific chemotherapy agents.

One main oral side effect often noticed is dry mouth (xerostomia). Chemotherapy or radiation therapy treatments as well adverse effects from medicines can result in damage to your salivary glands. The saliva becomes less abundant and thicker, and less able to neutralise the acids produced by dental plaque. This increases the risk of tooth decay, sores and mouth infections, such as oral thrush.

Dental products, such as saliva substitutes, mouth-rinses to fight infection and products that stimulate the salivary glands are available to relieve the symptoms of dry mouth.

A dry mouth may also make it difficult to wear dentures. Moisturisers and adhesives are available to help dentures stay in place.

Oral side effects such as dry mouth usually clear up after treatment although this may not be the case in radiation treatment for head and neck cancers. Symptoms may persist into the long-term if treatment was directed at the salivary glands. More regular dentist visits, possibly as frequently as every 3 months are required in these situations.

On completion of cancer treatment(s) the dentist may recommend the use of specific fluoride rinses and gels, high concentrated fluoride toothpastes, and other products designed to assist in lowering the risk of tooth decay.

For more information, the Australian Dental Association (ADA) provides further information which can be accessed here.

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