Getting a cancer diagnosis can be understandably scary, and some cancer treatments can cause some unwanted and unpleasant side effects throughout your body. Your mouth is no exception. While we understand that seeing your dentist in St. Louis may not be at the top of your to-do list, especially if you’re preparing to begin cancer treatment, it’s important to know that these visits can be an important part of keeping your body healthy and strong through cancer treatment. In fact, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, dental checkups before and during cancer treatment can prevent problems that may be serious enough to stop cancer treatment, which is the last thing you want to do.
Decreased White Blood Cells
Cancer treatment can be really effective at killing cancer cells, but they can also damage or kill good, healthy, normal cells including white blood cells. White blood cells are important to help fight off infection. Without enough of them, the immune system is weakened. Why is this a concern for your dentist in St. Louis? Well, if you have a gum infection, for example, and then your immune system is weakened, the infection can cause complications to both your oral health and additional problems to your overall health.
If your oncologist recommends radiation therapy to your head or neck, it may also affect your dental health. These treatments tend to reduce calcium levels in the body, and since our tooth enamel consists of mainly calcium, this reduction can cause teeth to weaken, putting them at increased risk of cavities. But that’s not all. Radiation therapy may also damage salivary glands, reducing their ability to produce saliva. This results in dry mouth, which also puts your oral health at risk for additional problems, including cavities and gum disease. Your dentist in St. Louis may recommend fluoride to help strengthen enamel or a special rinse to help keep the mouth properly hydrated.
Many cancer treatments involve the use of chemotherapy, which can damage the mucosal tissues in the mouth. This may cause painful sores and a temporary condition called mucositis. Mucositis is the inflammation or ulceration of the mucus membranes anywhere along the digestive tract, from the mouth through the intestines, and can affect an estimated 40% of cancer patients. Your dentist in St. Louis may be able to help reduce discomfort caused by mucositis through laser dentistry or other treatments.
Your dentist is always an important part of your healthcare team, especially if you’re undergoing cancer treatment. Make sure to see your dentist at least every six months, and perhaps more during treatment, to help protect your oral health and, in turn, the rest of your body.