If you are living with breast cancer or have survived this disease, you will have experienced how your cancer experience affects many aspects of your health and well-being. It won’t surprise you, then, that your dental health can be affected too. Therefore, it is important for you to know about the oral health-related complications of breast cancer so that you are aware that there is a flow-on effect for dentistry.
Please Keep Your Dental Team Informed About Your Treatment
If you are being treated for breast cancer, it is essential that you inform your dentist. This is because there are many medications used in the treatment of this disease which may impact both on your oral health and the dental treatments that may be required.
For example, the use of chemotherapeutic drugs may affect the rate of healing following a surgical procedure. Most patients receive chemotherapy or radiation therapy; however, some patients use bisphosphonates such as Fosamax, Actonel, Prolia, and others. The reason that some women take medication such as this is because breast cancer treatments can cause bone osteoporosis. Bisphosphonates actually assist with maintaining bone strength and help with osteoporosis.
Unfortunately, this important treatment doesn’t come without risks. Recent studies from the University of Southern California suggest long-term use of bisphosphonates may cause destruction of the jaw bone. This condition is called BRONJ – Bisphosphonate-Related OsteoNecrosis of the Jaw. Essentially, the bone loses its ability to heal properly. A wound in the bone (e.g. from a tooth extraction) may not heal completely. Infection or necrosis (bone death) may follow. While the risk of this is low, it can increase with chemotherapy.
Therefore, dental treatments and procedures that require bone healing should precede intravenous bisphosphonate therapy. Patients should understand the importance of maintaining good oral hygiene and having regular dental assessments. You can read more about this here.
Other Ways That Breast Cancer Affects Oral Health
There are other complications arising from breast cancer treatment that may also affect the mouth. While the drugs used in chemotherapy and radiation therapy kill cancer cells, they also harm normal cells. This can result in problems with teeth and gums; the soft, moist lining of the mouth; and the salivary glands. Some of these difficulties include:
- Mucositis- a severe form of inflammation of the mouth. This condition is very painful and can affect swallowing, taste, appetite, speech and sleep. It feels like a third-degree sunburn in the mouth.
- Dry mouth (xerostomia)- this can result in increased risk of dental caries due to reduced salivary flow. It can also cause difficulties with speech and eating.
- Increased risk of infection in the mouth- if the drug suppresses white cells, which normally protect against infection, deep cleanings and other invasive procedures such as tooth extraction may carry increased risk of post-op infection. Your dentist may need to take special precautions during and after treatment.
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia).
- Taste alterations ranging from unpleasant to tasteless.
- Oral yeast infection from the fungus candida.
- Poor nutrition due to difficulties in eating, dry mouth or loss of taste.
- Deep aching and burning pain that mimics toothache.
Therefore, in order to prevent serious problems, it is good to see a dentist approximately one month before starting your cancer treatment. Additionally, it is necessary that the dentist maintains very close communication with your medical team so as to ensure the best possible treatment outcomes for you in all areas.
The Importance of Consistent Dental Care
Whilst undergoing treatment for breast cancer, maintaining good dental hygiene and regular dental check-ups are important. The last thing you want is a toothache when you are undergoing major and potentially life-threatening issues. Consequently, it is recommended that a patient goes into cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy with excellent dental health. If you neglect this part of your health during the treatment and recovery phases, it can be enough to trigger various types of dental health issues going forward.
Having a good relationship with your dentist can be extremely helpful so that they can assist you during this challenging season of your life. If you are living with breast cancer, please keep us informed of your progress so that we can ensure you enjoy the best possible dental health.