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.
Elena Francisco, RDHAP, MS has been practicing dental hygiene for over 40 years and has been an RDHAP since 2005.