Dental Care & Hygiene for Patients with Breast Cancer
Dental care and hygiene are important for everyone, but especially for patients who are being treated for health problems. Women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer should talk to their dentist about how to care for their teeth before and during cancer treatment.
Annually, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. At Briglia Dental, we wanted to help support the cause by providing some helpful information this November. Breast cancer is the second most common form of cancer among women in our country, according to the American Cancer Society. It may seem unbelievable, but nearly 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer during her lifetime. The good news is that the survival rate is also incredibly high for breast cancer patients in the U.S.; the five-year survival rate is higher than 80%.
Why Dental Care is Important for These Patients
Oral health care is fundamental for breast cancer patients for a number of reasons. Here are a few top factors to consider:
- Preexisting and untreated dental issues can complicate medical treatment.
- More than 30% of patients also develop oral health problems.
- Cancer treatments irritate the tissues in the mouth and cause complications, such as dry mouth.
- Chemotherapy lowers your body’s ability to fight off all kinds of infections.
- Chemotherapy can cause issues that make eating and swallowing difficult.
Regular hygiene appointments and visits to your dentist will give these professionals ample opportunity to screen for the more common oral health problems caused or exacerbated by cancer treatments and medications. Catching problems early is the key to limiting the extent of damage and ensuring good oral health – now and in the future.
The Effect of Chemotherapy on Oral Health
One significant effect of chemotherapy is that it reduces patients’ white cell count. For this reason, it’s best to avoid invasive dental procedures and limit the possibility of gum infections when someone is battling breast cancer.
Patients undergoing chemotherapy often experience inflammation, bleeding and bruising of the gums, even following gentle dental procedures. Invasive dental procedures pose an unnecessary risk of infection and other related complications.
Having less white cells decreases their body’s capability of warding off infection. It’s imperative to the overall health of cancer patients to reduce the risk of infection as much as possible. This includes preventing the gums from being a source of infection. Careful brushing and regular dental visits and teeth cleanings are key to this prevention.
Dental Care Before Starting Cancer Treatment
If possible, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research recommends having a complete oral examination at least one month before starting treatment for breast cancer. It’s best to put elective procedures on hold until treatment has been completed. The following dental problems, however, should be addressed beforehand:
- Periodontal disease
- Endodontic disease
- Mucosal lesions
If oral surgery is necessary, it’s advisable to give yourself at least two weeks to heal properly prior to starting treatment. Be sure to consult with your oncologist when scheduling the oral surgery or invasive procedures.
If there are no oral health issues to address, dentists advise that patients have a thorough teeth cleaning prior to starting therapy.
Dental Hygiene During Cancer Treatment
Your dentist can provide more specific instructions on how to maintain your oral hygiene while receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Here are the general guidelines for hygiene:
- Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol.
- Use a brush with soft bristles or sponge to brush teeth and gums daily.
- Mild, alcohol-free mouthwash can be used after brushing.
- Continue to floss daily, with care.
- Ensure that dentures and removable appliances are kept clean and that they continue to fit comfortably.
- Keep up with regular dental hygiene appointments. Wait about a week after receiving chemotherapy to have any dental procedures.
Fluoride is important for cancer patients in order to protect the teeth and prevent cavities. For that reason, your dentist may also prescribe special fluoride toothpaste or mouthwash for daily use. Custom trays for fluoride gel to be worn at night may also be recommended for some patients.
For more information, read Is Periodontal Disease Linked to Breast Cancer?
Talk to Your Dentist About Your Medical History
Patients should always disclose their medical history with their dentist. If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer be sure to talk to your doctor before beginning therapy. Dental staff play a big role in informing patients about the best ways to care for their teeth while being treated for cancer. Hygienists and dentists are also the main gatekeepers in early detection of oral lesions, tooth demineralization and radiation cavities.
Talk with your dentist, schedule a pretreatment oral health assessment and request a comprehensive dental care plan for the different stages of cancer treatment. Together, you and your dentist can develop a plan that will support you in the fight against cancer.