This is the first post on various disease processes and their effects on oral health. Not to be redundant, but oral health and general health are inextricably linked. Regular preventive and therapeutic dental hygiene is vitally important for those undergoing cancer treatment, hospitalized as they recovery from injury or surgery, or are otherwise unable to visit their dental hygienist or dentist.
Mesothelioma is a form of cancer. It is most often caused by asbestos exposure. When being treated for the disease, patients may undergo radiation therapy or chemotherapy. This article will discuss the process the human body must endure during the radiation process. The impact on a patient's oral health will also be discussed.
Malignant mesothelioma cancer is most often caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral. Breathing asbestos fibers causes the mineral to lodge in the lung tissue. This is especially likely to happen if a person is exposed to the mineral frequently over a lengthy period. Once the fibers are in the lungs, they can get into the mesothelium, a membrane inside a patient's chest. The disease can also originate in the area around the patient's heart. The cancerous cells may spread to other areas of the body.
The purpose of radiation therapy is to kill cancerous cells and also to shrink tumors. The radiation can be administered either inside the patient's body or outside. During the internal radiation process, the healthcare professional will take a radioactive substance and insert it into the patient's body. In most cases, the substance is inserted using a catheter, needle or wire. During the external radiation process, the healthcare worker will use a machine to send the treatment into the body.
Radiation can be effective in treating cancerous cells. However, the downside is that radiation can also damage a patient's healthy cells. Some of the most common side effects caused by radiation therapy are fatigue and hair loss. Some patients report problems with sexual intercourse and also infertility. Skin rashes and blurry vision are common, too. Other side effects are headaches, urinary tract problems, swollen body parts, nausea, vomiting and difficulty swallowing.
Oral Health and Radiation
About 1/3 of cancer patients report oral health concerns due to their cancer treatment plan. Receiving radiation treatments to the head or the neck can make a person even more susceptible to dental problems. Radiation treatment can cause the patient's mouth to become dry, which increases the risk of getting cavities. Swelling may occur in the gums, which makes it hard for those with dentures to wear their false teeth. Sores may also appear in the mouth, which creates difficulty swallowing and chewing.
Dental experts recommend that a patient take certain precautionary measures before, during and after radiation treatment. For instance, the patient should brush the teeth 2-3 times per day using a soft-bristled brush. Using non-abrasive fluoride toothpaste is most often recommended. The patient should consult with a physician or dental professional before deciding to floss, as flossing could irritate gums, especially if they are already swollen or if other dental problems exist. GUM Soft-Picks,
the Quip electric toothbrush, and Peroxyl Oral Rinse are but a few of the products that can gently help patients with sensitive teeth and gums maintain good oral health.
Avoiding spicy foods can reduce gum irritation, and avoiding sugary products can help prevent dental plaque and tooth decay.
It is also recommended that the patient rinse the mouth several times per day using water and baking soda. To do this, mix one teaspoon of baking soda together with a quart of water. This solution is supposed to reduce gum soreness. It is also important that the patient not use tobacco products. Tobacco can irritate gums and additional oral sores.
As stated previously, radiation therapy can be used to fight malignant cells. While this invasive therapy can shrink tumors and combat them, it can produce some unwanted side effects. Follow your doctor's guidelines to help minimize your chances of experiencing heavy side effects. Make sure that you have regular visits with your dentist or dental hygienist to treat your oral health problems, too.
With dental need at an all time high in California and access to dental care decreasing, local programs are using the Tobacco Tax funds to find ways to increase access to preventive dental and dental hygiene care in their communities. Dental hygienists (RDH) and dental hygienists in alternative practice (RDHAP) are in high demand. Qualified dental hygiene practitioners are encouraged to call Susan and see how we can be of service.
The following was composed by Susan McLearan, RDH, RDHAP, MS, for placement in the Journal of the California Dental Hygienists' Association. She allowed me to post is also in my blog, hoping to reach dental hygienists.
CDHA sent e-mails to the 52 counties/jurisdictions that are eligible for Proposition 56 (Tobacco Tax) funding for a Local Oral Health Program funded through the Office of Oral Health. Twenty two responses were received describing the projects in various stages of development and giving some ideas as to what their needs might be. The respondent reported that the most have hygienists on their advisory boards and several are already using hygienists in their programs.
Rural areas are most in need of help. There is a particular need for hygienist Medi-Cal Dental providers to work part time. Some would want hygienists to contract with the county, others would have hygienists contract directly with schools.
The following jurisdictions have been identified as wanting hygienists to consider their programs.
Alpine Mariposa Orange
Berkeley Placer San Diego
Calaveras San Bernardino Solano
Humboldt San Luis Obispo Trinity
Lassen Santa Barbara Tulare
Although the type of services, length of the need, and meas of payment will vary, it might be worthwhile to make inquiries in the area near you. For example, Placer County reports that they pay RDHs and RDHAPs quite well on an hourly basis. They are not required to do "the paperwork". They project director feels that what they offer might be good for someone who works in an office 4 days a week but want to make some extra money now and then. They will have quite a few days this Fall for screenings and fluoride varnish applications for preschools and kindergartners.
If you wish to learn more about potential opportunities and need a contact person, please e-mail Susan McLearan at firstname.lastname@example.org
Elena Francisco, RDHAP, MS has been practicing dental hygiene for over 40 years and has been an RDHAP since 2005.