October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. At Sonrisas Dental Miami, we have treated many patients who have been diagnosed with cancer and have undergone (or who are currently undergoing) cancer treatment in the form of chemotherapy and radiation. While most people don’t think about their teeth and gums when it comes to cancer (unless it is Oral Cancer) – there are some important things to know.
Breast Cancer and Your Teeth
Our teeth and gums are really quite remarkable. They can give us the first look or indication that something may be off with our health. From gum inflammation and sensitivity/bleeding to tooth loss and even jaw bone deterioration. When a person is diagnosed with breast cancer, or any form of cancer, our teeth and gums may have shown the first signs.
The Dental Impacts of Cancer Treatment
Chemotherapy and radiation can have several effects on your teeth and gums, as they can impact various tissues in the body. This is a difficult and rigorous treatment that, although kills cancer cells, can kill good, healthy cells and tissue as well. Here are a few things that cancer treatment can do to your teeth & gums – even if they are healthy:
- Mouth Sores. One of the most common side effects of chemotherapy is the development of mouth sores or oral ulcers. These can be painful and make eating and speaking uncomfortable.
- Dry Mouth. Chemotherapy can lead to reduced salivary flow, causing dry mouth (xerostomia). Saliva helps protect teeth and gums by washing away food particles and bacteria. Dry mouth can increase the risk of dental decay and gum disease.
- Risk of Infection. Chemotherapy weakens the immune system, making you more susceptible to infections, including oral infections.
- Tooth Sensitivity. Some chemotherapy drugs can make teeth more sensitive to hot and cold temperatures.
- Bleeding Gums. Chemotherapy can lead to bleeding gums, as it can affect the blood’s ability to clot. In addition, the vessels that are in the gums may become inflamed, causing them to bleed easier. Severe inflammation leads to gum diseases such as Gingivitis and Periodontitis.
- Changes in Taste. Chemotherapy can alter your sense of taste, making some foods taste metallic or unpleasant.
- Tooth Decay. Dry mouth and changes in oral bacteria can increase the risk of tooth decay.
Hope and Help for Healthy Teeth During Breast Cancer Treatment
Dr. Viviana Waich has more than 18 years treating patients from all walks of life – including many undergoing cancer treatments. In addition to seeing your dentist regularly during chemotherapy or radiation treatment (at least twice every year but more if necessary), Dr. Waich recommends the following to help curb the impacts of cancer treatment on your teeth and gums:
- Brush with a soft-bristled toothbrush to avoid further irritation to the gums. Soft-bristled toothbrushes also help protect your enamel.
- Add fluoride to your dental routine, either with fluoride toothpaste or fluoride mouthwash to help protect against tooth decay.
- Eat a diet that is full of leafy greens, fresh fruits, and vegetables, and be sure to take mineral and vitamin supplements to bolster your dental health.
- Drink a lot of water to combat Dry Mouth (at least half your weight in ounces every day, but more if undergoing treatment).
- Gargle with a warm salt water rinse if you notice mouth sores or irritation.
As always, our team at Sonrisas Dental Miami is committed to your oral health. If you have questions about your dental care during breast cancer treatment, or you need to schedule your next routine visit – please schedule with us today. We are here for you in the fight against this horrible disease – together, we can kick it in the teeth!