Managing Oral Complications in Cancer Patients

By Dr. Tontra P. Lowe, DDS      

“Just start counting from 10 to 1 for me.” These were the words my oral surgeon said as I started to drift off during my wisdom teeth extraction appointment. The next thing I knew, I had a mouth full of gauze, and the sun was shining directly in my eyes through the window. The procedure was over, but it seemed like I had just gone to sleep. For me,  it was easy; but for those with a recent or current cancer diagnosis, a simple procedure in the mouth could wreak havoc on their overall health and recovery regardless of the type of cancer.

Living well with a cancer diagnosis is possible armed with the right knowledge to go into battle and win. Managing the medical and dental aspects before and after treatment is key to living well. Be intentional and proactive versus reactive. People on your wellness team must sometimes weigh life against quality of life, and in order to do that well, you must have your family dentist, and sometimes an oral surgeon, be a part of the conversation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2012 there were over 40,000 new oral cancer cases. Men with periodontal disease are 49% more likely to develop kidney cancer and 54% more likely to develop pancreatic or blood cancers. You must include your dentist in the battle plan for your treatment in order to improve outcomes for an extended quality of life.  Remember, the mouth is a part of the body. 

Here are 5 points to remember if dealing with a cancer diagnosis:

1)      Patients undergoing treatment for any cancer can develop mouth sores, dry mouth, and crumbling teeth. This is even more prevalent with radiation treatment for oral or throat cancer.

2)     Request the oncologist call your dentist and get them involved in your care regardless of cancer type.

3)     Remove any hopeless teeth and treat any cavities or gum disease before starting cancer treatment, if time allows.     

4)     Replace missing teeth to restore chewing function after cancer treatment and recovery.

5)     Use medical insurance to help cover fees for treatment in the mouth if at all possible.

Oral complications secondary to cancer diagnosis and treatment are common and can wreak havoc on other organs and in the mouth. Make sure to include your dentist in your care to improve quality of life and live well before the battle and after the victory. Being treated for cancer does not mean you cannot smile with confidence or resume chewing and functioning as before. Most PPO medical insurance plans will help pay fees for treatment in the mouth to get you back to swallowing and eating as usual. People pay hefty premiums for medical insurance—why not maximize any and all benefits?


Expert: Dr. Tontra P. Lowe, DDS
Her Expertise: Dentistry
Dr. Tontra Lowe is a family, cosmetic, and sedation dentist at Awesome Smiles Dental Center located right next door to the Haymarket Kohl’s.  She is one of a few dentists in Northern Virginia experienced to access medical benefits to pay for treatment in the mouth secondary to a medical condition or trauma.    

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