What is a dental oncologist and why should I visit one during my cancer treatment?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014
By, Eric

*guest post by Lauren Levi, DMD

What is Dental Oncology?

Dental oncology is an area of dentistry focusing on the dental and oral manifestations of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and/or head and neck surgery. Dentists trained in dental oncology are committed to working closely with oncologists and others involved in a patient’s cancer therapy to enhance the patient’s quality of life before, during, and after treatment in several ways. First, these dentists evaluate patients before they undergo stem cell and bone marrow transplants, receive anti-resorptive medications (including bisphosphonates) or chemotherapy, and undergo radiation treatment. Additionally, they provide periodic dental care during and after cancer therapy. They treat and manage the dental and oral side effects of cancer therapy such as mucositis, mouth sores, thrush, and dry mouth, as well as perform general dental treatment. Dentists with dental oncology training are also knowledgeable in the developmental side effects of cancer therapy and are equipped to treat pediatric patients with a history of cancer.

Why should I visit a dental oncologist?
A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, making it is easy to forget about your teeth and oral care. But it is critical that you maintain good oral health during cancer treatment. Cancer therapy may result in a wide array of oral and dental concerns and conditions. Cancer therapies, such as chemotherapy and radiation, are linked to reduced salivary function, increased risk for infection, and dental decay, and may be associated with impaired healing and damage of the oral tissues.

Ideally, the best time to visit a dentist trained in dental oncology, often called a dental oncologist, is before your therapy begins. This will help to minimize complications during and after cancer therapy. However, no matter where you are in your cancer treatment, it is never too late to see a dental oncologist.

How does radiation therapy to the head and neck affect my oral health?
Radiation therapy to the head and neck can alter your salivary flow, resulting in dry mouth, mouth sores, and an increased risk for dental decay. Certain dosages of radiation therapy to the head and neck are associated with an increased risk for osteoradionecrosis of the jaw (ORN), a condition characterized by delayed or abnormal wound healing. It is important to visit a dentist educated in dental oncology before undergoing radiation treatment, as certain dental procedures may not be performed after radiation therapy depending on the radiation dosage you receive or have received.

If I received or will be receiving anti-resorptive medications such as bisphosphonates or denosumab, should I visit a dentist?
Yes. These drugs are often prescribed to patients with multiple myeloma or bone metastases. They alter the normal functioning of bone cells and may be associated with delayed wound healing. It’s important to visit a dentist with advanced knowledge of dental oncology before starting these drugs or if you have a history of taking them.

How does chemotherapy affect my oral health?
Chemotherapy may be associated with mouth sores, dry mouth, and a compromised immune system, leaving you prone to infections and heightening your risk of dental decay. Dental oncologists are trained to manage these conditions, making them an essential resource for chemotherapy patients.

Why might my oncologist suggest I visit a dentist prior to receiving a bone marrow or stem cell transplant?
After receiving the transplant, your immune system will be compromised, and you may be at an increased risk for infections including those in your mouth. Visiting a dental oncologist is an important step you should take before undergoing a transplant.


About Lauren Levi, D.M.D.

As a general dentist with advanced training in dental oncology, Dr. Lauren Levi delivers comprehensive oral care to cancer patients in a warm, supportive, and gentle environment. After receiving her D.M.D. at the University of Florida College of Dentistry, Dr. Levi completed a general practice residency at New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medical Center. During her residency, Dr. Levi rotated through Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where she discovered her passion for dental oncology. She then pursued a fellowship in dental oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. This training equipped her with extensive experience performing dental treatment on patients who are receiving chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and stem cell transplants and those who may face individual dental needs because of these treatment programs.

For more information on dental oncology, visit http://www.laurenlevidmd.com.



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