People who develop cancer and get treatment for it are facing a problem of which they are probably unaware: the heightened risk of caries, or cavities in their teeth because of radiation treatments. In this report, Dr. Stuart Rich explains the problem and suggests what cancer patients should do to protect their teeth.
Radiation treatment, and some chemotherapy treatments, can cause xerostomia, or dry mouth. Not only does a dry mouth feel terrible, it can cause cavities by drying up saliva, which has a big protective effect on keeping the pH in the mouth at a normal level. Dr. Rich notes that this does not happen to every cancer patient. People who get a cancer diagnosis should communicate this to their dentist and discuss management of the mouth, should dry mouth occur.
Not all treatments are the same. Treatment of head and neck tumors is the most frequent cause of xerostomia. This radiation occurs in the area of the salivary glands and can cause temporary or permanent damage to the production of saliva. Dr. Rich repeats how important it is for a cancer patient to get in touch with a dentist as soon as possible rather than waiting for the next cleaning appointment.
Prescription strength toothpaste and in office fluoride treatments are things a dentist can offer to help. Dr. Rich suggests that more frequent cleanings may be required. A patient may even require custom fluoride trays to help keep the teeth properly mineralized and free from decay. Custom fluoride trays are much like teeth whitening trays. They are modeled to fit a patient’s teeth. After brushing and flossing, a patient fills the tray with a special fluoride gel and then inserts the tray for thirty minutes to an hour.
Dr. Stuart H. Rich, DDS, practices dentistry with Simply Smiles of Auburn, Washington. Dr. Stuart Rich has been rated Top Dentist for the 5th year in a row, including 2014, by a survey of dental specialists, published annually in Seattle Metropolitan magazine. Sleep Better TV is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.