In this blog, we address the unique challenges and considerations of tooth replacement for cancer patients, providing guidance for those navigating oral health during cancer treatment
Research shows that more than 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer every year. Cancer is a terrible disease that causes hair loss, muscle atrophy, brittle bones, bleeding gums, and tooth loss.
Tooth loss can lead to a variety of additional oral and overall health impacts. Therefore, once patients make it through their cancer treatments, it’s important to consider tooth replacement options.
Many patients choose removable dentures, which can be effective - but can also cause problems. The most permanent solution is dental implants- but in order to determine the best option, consult with a dentist who has experience and expertise in dental oncology.
The best way to prevent oral health issues is to practice proper oral hygiene and to take care of any issues before starting cancer treatment.
Cancer treatments will have an impact on your diet and eating habits. You may have days that you don’t really eat much. You should still make sure that you are brushing and flossing, as well as using mouthwash on those days. If you don’t, bacteria can grow, which can lead to plaque and tartar buildup, which can lead to many other issues including gum disease and tooth loss.
You should schedule a visit with your dentist at least 1 month prior to beginning your cancer treatment regimen. This will give you time to take care of any oral issues ahead of time. You will need to make sure to have root canal treatments, dental crowns, and dental fillings taken care of and orthodontic appliances removed prior to beginning cancer treatments.
After treatment, you may need to consider tooth replacement options, especially if tooth decay has developed or worsened- or you have lost one or more natural teeth.
In order to understand the benefits and drawbacks of dentures versus dental implants for cancer survivors, you must understand what each one is.
Dentures are synthetic teeth and gums made from acrylic. In some cases, the teeth may be porcelain. They sit on top of the gums and are usually held in place with denture adhesive. They are custom-made to fit perfectly in your mouth. However, the contour of your gums/jawbone will change over time and the dentures will need to be relined or replaced. Plus, they must be taken out of your mouth daily for cleaning and to allow your mouth to rest.
One of the major long-term issues is that they rest on top of the gums. This can lead to irritation, inflammation, and infection- which can lead to oral cancer in the future. Plus, since the jawbone is not being stimulated in the area of the missing teeth, it will deteriorate, which means the dentures won’t fit properly and will need to be adjusted or replaced.
If your dentures do not fit properly, food and other things can get stuck under them, which creates an environment conducive to bacteria growth. When bacteria grow, your risk of infection increases significantly. This is extremely dangerous for patients with a compromised immune system.
Dentures sit on the gums and, when they slip and slide around in the mouth, sores may develop- which makes it harder to eat and ultimately can lead to infection. Finally, dentures are not a permanent solution. Dentures must be replaced every 5 to 7 years- but may last as long as 10 years with proper care and maintenance.
Dental implants are a permanent tooth replacement solution. Implants are inserted into the jawbone, creating a strong, stable base for a replacement tooth. A single dental implant can replace a single missing tooth, while multiple implants can support up to an entire arch.
The primary benefits of dental implants are that they look, feel, and function more like natural teeth. Since they are inserted into the jawbone, they don’t require any special considerations for care- they can be brushed and flossed like natural teeth.
Plus, since they are inserted into the jawbone, they preserve jawbone health and can withstand more bite force than other options.
If you are a cancer survivor and are considering your tooth replacement options, dental implants should be at the top of your list. According to the American Dental Association, implants are the gold standard in tooth replacement because they look, feel, and function more like natural teeth when compared to other options.
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