This post on dental assessments is especially useful for those who are about to undergo cancer treatment (radiation or chemotherapy) or a major surgical procedure (e.g. organ transplantation, heart bypass, etc).

There is increasingly more research suporting the link between oral health and overall health. In the situation where the body’s immune system is down, it is even more important to be aware of how to avoid oral complications in the middle of treatment or post-surgery.

Oral Complications

Oral complications are present in:
(1) Almost all patients receiving radiation for head and neck cancer;
(2) Up to 75% of blood and marrow transplant recipients; and
(3) Nearly 40% of patients receiving chemotherapy.

Effects of Oral Complications

The effects of oral complications on the patient include:
(1) Seriously compromising the patient’s health and quality of life;
(2) Affecting the patient’s ability to complete the course of treatment;
(3) Resulting in tolerance of a lower and less effective dose of therapy;
(4) Postponing scheduled treatments;
(5) Stopping treatment; and
(6) Developing potentially life threatening systemic infections.

Thus, oral care before, during and after cancer treatment is critical in the prevention or reduction of the incidence and severity of oral complications, with the net result that patient survival and quality of life are enhanced.

Here is how the dental specialist team can work together with the medical team in these special cases:

I. Pre-Treatment Dental Assessment

Sending cancer patients for a pre-treatment dental assessment prior to undergoing radiation therapy or chemotherapy:
(1) Reduces the risk and severity of dental complications developing during the course of treatment;
(2) Allows early detection and treatment of existing infections and other problems;
(3) Increases the likelihood that the patient will successfully complete the treatment;
(4) Minimizes oral infections that could lead to potentially fatal systemic infections;
(5) Prevents or reduces later incidence of bone necrosis;
(6) Prevents, eliminates or reduces oral pain;
(7) Improves the quality of life; and
(8) Decreases the cost of care.

A dental assessment enables the identification and treatment of problems such as infection, fractured teeth or restorations, and gum disease that could worsen oral complications once cancer therapy is started. Baseline data can also be established in order to compare the patient’s status in subsequent examinations.

The identification of any pressing dental treatment needs, including gum swelling, loose or decayed teeth, and any other lesions in the oral cavity would indicate dental treatment should be provided before the patient undergoes chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

II. On-going Dental Treatment Needs

Continued follow-up by the dental specialist is important during the course of cancer treatment to prevent, detect, and treat oral complications in a timely manner.

For more information on Dental Assessments, please click here.

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