How does Cancer Affect Dental Health?

Oral health is one aspect of the human body that is taken casually. On the contrary, it is fundamental to one’s overall health. Dental health is more complex than one comprehends. It is way beyond the alignment of your teeth, healthy gums, and cavity. Have you ever wondered why your General Physician asks you to open your mouth wide during a routine check-up? It is because oral health is a gateway to one’s internal health and issues with signs from digestion to respiratory glitches that make regular dental screening imperative. 

What is oral cancer and its cause?

Nearly 20 per 100000 population in India are diagnosed with oral cancer each year. One of the common facts about oral cancer is that it is reported more commonly among men aged above 35 years as compared to women, the primary catalyst being the carefree lifestyle of men with tobacco addiction.

Mouth or oral cancer can be explained as diverse categories starting in the orofacial area, i.e., mouth, lips, tongue, developments in the cheeks, gums, roof of the mouth, and in the salivary glands. 

The major causes of oral cancer cases are related to the consumption of tobacco, poor oral hygiene, multiple gum diseases, family history of mouth cancer, UV rays, Human Papillomavirus (HPV). In several cases, increasing leukoplakia, ill-treated dental caries, fractured teeth having sharp edges causing repetitive ulcers leading to tumors could be the various causes of oral cancers. 

What are the signs of oral cancer?

The symptoms of oral cancer may vary from person to person and these signs sometimes may be mistaken for other problems. If these symptoms continue to last for several weeks, it is advisable to visit your dentist at the earliest to avoid further complications. 

Some of the symptoms a cancer patient may develop are:

  • Difficulty in chewing and swallowing
  • Swelling on the neck, lumps or bumps, rough spots on the areas inside the mouth
  • Losing teeth for no apparent reason 
  • Numbness and dryness on the tongue or other area of the mouth 
  • Restricted mouth opening 
  • Difficulty in moving the jaw or tongue 
  • Continuous mouth pain and Pores that do not heal

How is oral cancer treated?

Chemotherapy: This procedure is to destroy the cancer cells or to prevent the cells from growing, dividing, and multiplying. The chemo schedule is directed by the dentist in close association with an oncologist which determines the frequency, interval, and span of the session. This is derived after an intensive study of factors such as cancer type, its risk, size, the spread, etc.

Radiation therapy: Radiotherapy is also considered as a viable option for oral cancer treatment and is effective to eliminate the tumor. This process uses high-energy x-rays and other particles to eliminate cancer cells or reduce its growth rate. Radiotherapy can be used as the main treatment for curing small cancers. In many cases, this can be very effective to help ease the symptoms of advanced cancer. The total dose of this therapy is divided into small fractions and is given to the patient as required and directed.

Chemoradiation: The combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy is termed as Chemoradiation. This combined treatment is often seen as more effective than alone treatments and is given to control cancer and to relieve the symptoms. Depending on the type of cancer, chemoradiation can be used as the main treatment or post-surgery to reduce the risk of cancer cells coming back.

Surgery: The end goal of oral cancer surgery is to completely eradicate the tumor. Depending on the stage and location of cancer, a patient may need more than one surgery for complete removal of cancer. Surgeries are normally performed during the initial stages of cancer when the cells have not advanced and spread outside its primary site. As a part of the procedure, the specialist may have to remove the nearby affected tissues from the cheeks and other areas of the mouth so that no traces of cancer cells are left in the healthy tissues.

Nutrition: As mouth cancer primarily affects oral health, a challenge that poses itself is that the patient can’t carry on with the regular diet. Hence, the patient must receive the required minerals and nutrition through alternate methods to keep-up in course of the treatment. 

Oral Hygiene: Poor oral hygiene can strongly contribute to oral cancers. When undergoing treatment for mouth cancer, maintaining a sufficient level of hygiene is mandatory. These comprehensive procedures can expose the patient to heavy medicines causing chances of infections. Thus, one needs to follow the directions suggested by the dentist to steer clear of trouble.

How can dentists help cancer patients?

Dental professionals play an important role in assisting patients suffering from oral and other types of cancers. A dental professional’s responsibility is to avoid any form of escalation.

  • The patients need to be monitored weekly to guarantee they are not developing any mouth sores
  • Routine cleaning of the teeth and polishing in the mouth
  • To recommend and prescribe dental products that benefit the patients
  • Promoting a balanced diet; inclusive of rich minerals and nutrients
  • Assisting with the right way of brushing teeth and gums to maintain oral hygiene
  • Regular fluoride treatment to prevent dry mouth and caries caused by cancer radiation
  • Preparing for oral screens with lead for radiations so that the patient doesn’t develop cavities
  • Using the right bite appliance before radiations to maintain the patient’s jaw position and structure.

Oral cancer can be fatal if not treated soon. It does depend on multiple factors such as type, stage, general health, age, and individual response to the treatment. Post-treatment, one needs to get routine checkups to make sure that they are recovering. Your checkups may consist of blood tests, X-rays, CT scans, and make sure you follow up with your dentist if you notice anything unfamiliar.

Dr. Riddhi Rathi Shet, Founder & Managing Director, Orthosquare

About the Author

Practicing dentistry for more than 13 years, Dr. Riddhi Rathi Shet is the Founder and Managing Director of Award winning OrthosquareTM, a Multispecialty Dental clinic which has 85 + clinics in Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Dr. Riddhi Rathi Shet has won the title of Dental Implantologist of the year 2016, Outstanding Dentist of the year Junior 2016 at Indian Health Professional Awards, Young Dental Achiever award 2017, Iconic Inspirational women of Navbharat in Dental Care Category. Implantologist of the year 2019 at Dental Diva award and High-Tech Dentist of the year 2019 at Dental Diva Awards. She aims to support every woman dentist who has the right spirit to do better in the field of dentistry.