“You have cancer.”
That one quick sentence made up of just three little words embarks a patient and his or her family on a journey down long roads of uncountable doctor visits, unknown terminology, and unwanted uncertainty. Few experiences leave their indelible mark on health, relationships, and spirituality as deeply as cancer. Often, in the midst of this storm, oral health and dental care are overlooked or placed on a back burner – until there is a problem. Patients undergoing treatment for cancer present to the dental office with an unique set of medical concerns and potential complications.
Immunosuppression, radiation, and cytotoxic drugs can cause painful and debilitating side effects, increase the risk of infection, and alter the normal healing process expected after dental procedures. Unfortunately, these experiences are realized to some degree or another by patients with all types of cancer – not just patients with oral cancer. To care for these needs is the scope of dental oncology. Dental oncology is a focus of dentistry dedicated to meeting the unique dental and oral health care needs that arise as a result of cancer therapy. It is an area of oral medicine devoted to improving the well-being and quality of life of people battling cancer.
Dental oncology goes beyond the scope of general dental treatment to include management of the soft tissues of the mouth and care for oral side effects specific to cancer therapy. A dental professional knowledgeable in dental oncology plays an important role throughout cancer treatment by preventing and managing mouth sores, dental needs, oral pain and infections. As a member of the patient’s oncology care team, the dental oncologist communicates directly with the medical oncologist, radiation oncologist and other team members to provide optimal comprehensive care before, during, and after cancer treatments. Ideally, a patient’s relationship with a dental professional begins as soon as possible after receiving the diagnosis of cancer. Most of the present-day treatments for cancer involve the administration of cytotoxic drugs, radiation, myelosuppressive treatments or
some combination thereof. Having a baseline assessment completed before the implementation of immunosuppressive therapies allows the dental professional to have a pre-treatment reference point to compare oral and systemic health at future visits.
For the newly diagnosed patient with cancer who has not received regular dental and oral health care, a prompt visit to the dentist’s office also allows for immediate attention to unaddressed periodontal issues and unresolved dental needs before immunosuppression begins. During cancer treatments, bacterial components of calculus, dental plaque and oral biofilm can easily become vehicles for bacteria getting into the blood stream or the source of oral infections. Properly addressing these oral health concerns at this pre-treatment stage can prevent or significantly reduce the severity of oral issues that could complicate or even interrupt the patient’s cancer treatment schedule. Sometimes, it is not possible for an individual to see a dental oncologist before beginning cancer therapy. There is still much that can be done at each stage of the battle to help diminish the severity of side effects and reduce the risk of infection. Even for the cancer survivor, a dental oncologist should be a member of an on-going care team. This is especially true for the head or neck cancer survivors or any patient that received bisphosphonate therapy for bone metastases.
An experience with cancer is a personal journey, and there is no single adage that applies to all. There are, however, recommendations that are applicable to most. Always consult with your dentist or dental oncologist to customize a continuing care plan that is suited for your needs. Do not be afraid to begin a dialogue with your oral
health care provider. Let him or her understand what is working for you, and what isn’t. Together, you and your dental oncologist can develop a regimen that is tailored to your needs and helps ensure your continued oral health.
DENTAL ONCOLOGY PROFESSIONALS OF NORTH TEXAS
News Feed: dentaloncology.tumblr.com/rss
Dennis M. Abbott, D.D.S. is the founder and CEO of Dental Oncology
Professionals of North Texas, an oral medicine practice dedicated to
meeting the unique dental and oral health needs of patients battling cancer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in biology from Rice University in Houston, and is an honor graduate of Baylor College of Dentistry. After dental school, Dr. Abbott studied immunology, microbiology, and oral medicine at the School of Dental Medicine, State University of New York at Buffalo. In addition to private practice, he is a member of the dental oncology medical staff at Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center and Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. Dr. Abbott also serves as a consultant to the national American Cancer Society in the development of oral monitoring guidelines for post-treatment cancer survivors. Dr. Abbott has most recently conducted studies focusing on bisphosphonate-related osteonecrosis of the jaw and xerostomia in patients with cancer. He is the previous recipient of the Dentist Scientist Award and the National Research Service Award, both granted by the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Abbott has been a visiting faculty lecturer for the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine continuing education program and has lectured throughout the United States.
Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!