Can Cancer Cause Dental Problems?


I confronted my oncologist and dentist about the research I found. After doing their own research, they told me that cancer and treatment can weaken bone structure including teeth. I wish I had been told this earlier.

I have been hesitant to write a blog on the probable relationship between dental health and cancer, mostly because I found so little research on it. I did, however, find research refuting the myth that root canals cause cancer, which was believed at one time.

Some research has been done on the link between pancreatic cancer and periodontal disease. Some articles talked about poor dental hygiene being a precursor to cancer. But this was not what I was looking for at all.

Recently, I noticed other CURE® VOICES contributors sharing how some experienced increasing dental problems after diagnosis and treatment. That led me to want to share my story.

I have always experienced dental problems. I have worn hearing aids for more than 60 years, and the ear molds caused serious temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, which according to the Mayo Clinic can cause pain in the jaw joint and surrounding muscles.

After experiencing excruciating headaches, I had braces for two years as an adult, which helped some.Throughout the years, I have had several root canals and a couple of cracked teeth pulled. One horrible time I even had a splintered bone migrate to my sinuses resulting in daily antibiotic IVs for several weeks because of infection and fever.

Then the tsunami hit. I had five root canals in one year, causing financial devastation. My gut told me something else was wrong and a few months later I was diagnosed with MDS.

When it comes to my dental health, the years after that have been horrible. Tooth after tooth had to be extracted, including five last year. By now I was losing patience!

With a doctoral degree, I am familiar with research and decided to dig even deeper. I finally found an article by Dr. Jason C. Campbell that explains how cancer treatments impact tooth decay.

It explains how when a patient is receiving radiation or chemotherapy, the salivary glands are altered. Since saliva is effective in protecting against tooth decay, cavities and related problems often occur.

BINGO – I was right! The author talks about the very cures of treatment causing devastation to the teeth. He laments his patients losing thousands of dollars first for cancer treatment, then for dental bills, just to be able to eat in post-cancer life.

The problem is how rarely the patient is informed about the association of these two problems. I finally confronted my oncologist and dentist. They did their own research I am sure, and they told me that cancer and treatment do weaken bone structure including the teeth. I wish I had been told this earlier.

I truly am encouraged that some research is being done, and there will be more in the future. Meanwhile, there are some steps to take. Several of these articles, including many from the American Dental Association, encourage cancer survivors to connect and consider their dentist a huge part of their care team.

All the articles encouraged basic dental care such as brushing your teeth, flossing regularly, avoiding crunchy foods, and drinking too much alcohol, which can dry your mouth. There are several other suggestions on how to alleviate some of the problems, like making sure your oncologist and dentist work together, gently brushing your teeth twice a day, and avoiding dry mouth.

There are special mouthwashes to assist in preventing dental decay and helping with the saliva. Special kinds of toothpaste are available, but they are more expensive. I also need to wear a splint at night to prevent the damage bruxism has caused. A dentist can help you with these steps.

And like anything else, beware of a new person entering your medical world. I was referred to an oral surgeon to remove two teeth at once. He immediately told me I should have implants. I had been cautioned by my dentist against this, because my bone structure was not strong enough. This oral surgeon became insistent and I refused to schedule them, which upset him.

When I returned to my dentist, I found out he could have done them and did not suggest these to me, because he knew what was best for me. I trust him completely and this is what we all need on our care team. I am very lucky to have my dentist and oncologist, who advised against any kind of implants.I have an immune deficiency, so it was extra important to contact them.

In summary, do not jump into anything. Do your research and build up a good relationship with all your doctors, including your dentist. Understand that the results will never be perfect, since we can lose some teeth, but steps can be taken to help us eat and drink more comfortably. And we all love to eat!