October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. What does that have to do with dental issues? In the United States, more than 200,000 women receive a breast cancer diagnosis each year. For almost all of them, chemotherapy will be one of the approaches used in treating their cancer. Chemotherapy has a host of side effects, but not enough attention has been given to the effects of chemo on oral health. At Carmichael Dental Care in Montgomery, AL, Dr. Chet Shwarzentruber is keenly aware of how chemo can cause problems in the mouths of women undergoing breast cancer treatment.
It’s About Estrogen
Roughly 75 percent of breast cancers express estrogen and/or progesterone receptors. Those receptors are the target of anti-estrogen therapies. Anti-estrogen medications include Tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors.
These are systemic treatments that are carried throughout a woman’s body including to the mouth. From an oral health standpoint, this isn’t a good thing. Women undergoing anti-estrogen therapies can experience:
- Inflamed gums (gingival inflammation)
- Bleeding gums
- Pockets in the gums
- Gum disease
- Increased rate of cavities
- Chronic dry mouth
- Bone degeneration (osteonecrosis
- Bacterial, viral, and fungal infections
This isn’t to say that you will have these problems if you’re undergoing breast cancer treatment with anti-estrogen therapies, but there’s a good chance of experiencing negative effects on your oral health.
Preparation Is Good
If you’re facing anti-estrogen therapy, it’s a really good idea make sure that your mouth is in great shape before treatment begins. Any existing problems will likely be magnified once chemotherapy begins. A thorough dental cleaning and examination is a very worthwhile investment in your health.
Be Your Own Advocate
Awareness of chemotherapy-related problems is the first step. Don’t dismiss chronic dry mouth or unexplained pain in the mouth. If you take good care of your teeth and gums, but your gums unexpectedly start looking dark red instead of pink, or they begin bleeding, it may be due to chemotherapy. If you experience an infection such as thrush in the mouth and/or throat, it may be due to immune suppression from chemo.
Let your dentist know that you’re undergoing anti-estrogen chemotherapy so your hygienist and dentist can take that into account when you’re having a dental cleaning or examination.
Chronic dry mouth can lead to increase in dental plaque which in turn leads to gum disease and cavities. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not doing a good job with brushing and flossing. There are treatments available for chronic dry mouth that can help.
High-calories drinks are often recommended for chemotherapy patients to help them maintain or gain weight. You should know that many of these drinks contain large amounts of sugar. For the sake of your teeth and gums, drink those high-calories drinks as quickly as possible and be sure to thoroughly rinse your mouth afterwards.
Schedule Regular Dental Cleanings And Examinations
If you’re undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, your goal should be to maintain the best oral health you can. One of the best ways to do that is to schedule more frequent appointments to remove any dental plaque, assess the health of your gums, and detect problems before they become bigger problems.
In Montgomery, AL, schedule an appointment with Dr. Chet Shwarzentruber at Carmichael Dental Care. Call our office at 334-600-1423.