The Specialist

Visit your dentist before cancer treatment  

You have received the news. You or a loved one was recently diagnosed with cancer and require immediate treatment. You then go through the process of planning a personalized treatment plan designed to get you or your loved one healthy again. This usually involves lifestyle and dietary improvements to adequately support the treatment. One such area you should never neglect is the health of your mouth.

In this column, I address the importance of good dental care, especially when associated with cancer treatment.

Whether the cancer is in the head/neck region or another part of the body, your nutrition is critical to your eventual healthy recovery. For this to occur, you need healthy teeth and gums, so that you may eat the proper foods and digest the proper nutrients.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) lists three reasons to see a dentist before cancer treatment:

• You will feel better.

• You will protect your teeth, gums and jaw bone.

• You will avoid and manage delays and complications associated with cancer related oral infections and inflammation.

One of the common treatments for cancer is radiation. It uses beams of intense energy to kill cancer cells. Radiation to the head and neck region has two potentially challenging side effects:

• Radiation damages the salivary glands in the mouth, resulting in dry mouth. When the mouth is dry, the environment becomes acidic. An acidic mouth is more prone to dental decay and bad breath. This means all decay should be diagnosed and treated by a dentist before radiation therapy. Also, a prevention protocol involving fluoride and a low sugar diet, xylitol, baking soda rinses and artificial saliva may be prescribed to help prevent the decay. Good home care is important to prevent tooth decay and tooth loss. We want to avoid any surgery like a tooth extraction.

• Radiation also reduces blood supply to the bone and soft tissues. So, if you lose a tooth during radiation, there can be further complications due to the lack of blood supply to the area. Therefore, it is much less a risk to remove a compromised tooth before you begin radiation treatment.

Another common cancer treatment is chemotherapy, which uses drugs to target and destroy cancer cells. The body’s effect to chemotherapy is more generalized or systemic. Side effects include soreness, ulcerations of the mouth’s soft tissues, dry mouth, a burning sensation, peeling or swollen tongue, infections and taste changes. Specially made oral rinses from a pharmacy that numb and soothe the oral tissues may help you get through this period.

So, if you were diagnosed with cancer, you should see a dentist prior to cancer treatment. If necessary, your dentist and oncologist will communicate to coordinate efforts and reduce your risks during treatments. If a tooth extraction is necessary, it should be done as soon as possible before chemotherapy or radiation because adequate healing time is necessary prior to cancer treatment. Your dentist will advise you on the right protocol that meets your comfort needs.

Dental visits, to remain healthy, are always a good idea. More especially, if you are diagnosed with cancer, be advised that you still can live a long and high-quality life. To do so requires a proactive approach to keep your oral care as healthy as possible, so that you can receive the right nutrition and dental treatment for maximum health and wellness.

• Dr. Kendal V.O. Major is the founder and CEO of the Center for Specialized Dentistry, which is a comprehensive family dental practice operating in New Providence and Grand Bahama. He is the first Bahamian specialist in gum diseases and dental implants since 1989. He is also a certified fast braces provider. His practice is located at 89 Collins Avenue, New Providence. He can be contacted at (242) 325-5165 or

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