What Grads of Dental Hygienist Training Should Know About Dental Care for Cancer Patients

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Oral health can be directly impacted by other illnesses and treatments occurring elsewhere in the body. This is especially true for patients receiving cancer treatment. Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation will have a serious and negative impact on a patienta��s overall health, and especially on their oral health. Therefore, ita��s important to be aware of the common oral health problems associated with cancer treatment, as well as what you can do as part of a dental health team to help mitigate those issues and keep your patients healthy, pain-free, and comfortable.

If youa��re interested in a career as a dental hygienist, read on to learn more about treating patients who have cancer.

Common Oral Complications Grads of Dental Hygienist Training May See in Cancer Patients

While most cancer patients are likely to experience negative effects on their oral health while undergoing cancer treatment, there are several types of patients who are more at-risk for certain complications or complications of a higher severity. According to the BC Cancer Agency, 40 per cent of chemotherapy patients experience complications with their oral health. Leukemia patients in particular can be susceptible to oral health problems, with almost all developing oral health challenges during the course of their treatment. In addition, patients who are undergoing radiation treatment to their head and neck are much more likely to experience side effects that affect their oral health.

Some of the most common oral health side effects are:

  • Mouth sores, otherwise known as oral mucositis
  • Infection due to a weakened immune system
  • Dry mouth and thickened saliva
  • Mouth or jaw pain
  • Inflammation
  • Tooth decay

If you work with patients undergoing treatment for cancer once you become a dental hygienist, you may see them develop some of these symptoms. In fact, mouth sores will affect approximately 20 to 40 per cent of patients receiving chemotherapy for a tumor.

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Patients receiving cancer treatment are likely to experience oral complications

Students in Dental Hygienist Training Might Know About Pre-Treatment Appointments

As you may learn during dental hygienist training, if a patient has pre-existing oral health challenges before starting cancer treatment, the problems will likely only get worse, which is why ita��s recommended that patients make an appointment with their dentist and dental health team a month prior to starting treatment. This allows any issues like gum disease or cavities to be taken care of before the patient begins treatment. In addition, it gives the dentist an opportunity to diagnose potential issues that will need to be monitored throughout the course of treatment.

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Pre-treatment dentist appointments can help stop potential side effects

Pre-treatment appointments are also valuable for setting a benchmark, so the dentist can look at how the patienta��s oral health has progressed over the course of treatment. Finally, pre-treatment dental appointments also serve as an opportunity to educate the patient about ways they can maintain their oral health during treatment.

How Cancer Patients Can Improve Their Oral Health During and After Treatment

While many of the common oral side effects cancer patients experience are unpleasant, there are some options dentists can recommend to help ease any discomfort and pain. Continuing to brush and floss is important. However, dentists may recommend brushing gently with a very soft tooth brush. If the patient is experiencing gum inflammation and bleeding, they should stop flossing those areas. During cancer treatment, ita��s best for the patient to avoid any smoking or alcohol, including using alcohol-based mouth rinses.

The use of fluoride can be extremely beneficial in preventing the breakdown of teeth during treatment. However, ita��s always best for the dentist in charge to consult with the patienta��s oncologist before recommending any form of treatment. Finally, if the patient is experiencing dry mouth, dentists may suggest sipping water, sucking on ice chips, and chewing on sugar-free gum to help lubricate the mouth. In addition, patients could opt for using a saliva substitute spray to moisten their mouth.

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