Prior to starting any form of cancer therapy, it’s important to have a thorough dental examination and receive treatment for any existing conditions or issues. This will help reduce the risk of dental-related complications arising during your cancer treatment.
Certain treatments, both for cancer itself and for bone health, can cause dental problems. Be sure to tell your dentist about the type(s) of therapy you are receiving, and ask if you should schedule more frequent visits during the course of your treatment.
RANK ligand inhibitors and bisphosphonates (see “Medications” section) are associated with medication-related osteonecrosis of the jaw (MRONJ). Although uncommon, MRONJ is a potentially serious side effect. It can cause pain, infection, loose teeth and exposed bone around the jaw. MRONJ is usually treated with antimicrobial mouth rinses and antibiotics. Sometimes, oral surgery is performed to remove the piece of exposed bone.
High-dose radiation given to treat head and neck cancers can cause osteoradionecrosis (the death of bone tissue) in the jawbone. Osteoradionecrosis can be treated with oral surgery and antibiotics. Additionally, hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is sometimes used to prevent or treat osteoradionecrosis. In HBOT, pure (100 percent) oxygen is delivered while the person is in a pressurized chamber.
High-dose chemotherapy can reduce white blood cell counts, increasing the risk of dental-related infections. If an infection occurs, it is typically treated with antibiotics.
After cancer treatment, it’s important to maintain good dental care. See your dentist every three to six months, depending on how much dental or periodontal disease you have.