Dental care after cancer treatment
Many of the side effects of cancer treatment may go away once the treatment is finished. However, some side effects can remain even after the cancer treatment has ended.
Radiation treatment that has been directed at the head and neck, particularly the salivary glands, mouth, and lower jaw (known as the mandible), creates long-term consequences for patients. In most cases, this is related to the damage to the salivary glands. This damage can cause ongoing dry mouth and an increased risk of developing tooth decay.
Some patients can develop trismus following radiotherapy. Trismus is a condition where the movement of the lower jaw is restricted. This means people may find it difficult to keep their mouth open during dental appointments. Also, they can have difficulty with oral hygiene measures, and eating. Dentists play a role in managing this and can make suggestions as to how to improve mouth opening.
Patients who have had radiotherapy to the head and neck region are at risk of poor healing after dental extractions. This is a condition called osteoradionecrosis. It is important to discuss this with your dentist, but also for the dentist to communicate with the oncology team to assess and minimise the risk of this occurring.
If you have had radiation therapy for head and neck cancer, it is important to see your dentist regularly. Your dentist will partner with you to care for your teeth and ensure that they remain healthy. Seeing your dentist regularly can help them to detect and treat any problems early. It is also important to keep very good oral hygiene, not eat too much sugary foods and drinks, and stop smoking.