According to the Mayo Clinic, oral health is "a window to your overall health." Oral hygiene issues are often indicative of deeper, overall health issues — whether they are preexistent or soon to come. As the mouth is an entryway to the digestive and respiratory tracts, it also acts as a natural breeding ground for bacteria. Though most of these bacteria are harmless, poor oral hygiene can allow them to multiply at dangerously high levels. This may cause several kinds of oral infections, such as gum disease.
Gum disease is also known as periodontal disease. It typically begins as gingivitis, or gum inflammation, before progressing to periodontitis, a severe form of gum disease. Multiple studies have shown a correlative relationship between periodontitis and various forms of cancer, including but not limited to breast cancer, digestive tract cancer, esophagus/oropharyngeal cancer, and prostate cancer. Patients should speak to a complete health dentist about their personal risk factors to catch any warning signs of disease, oral or otherwise.
Many people are unaware that cancer treatment can take its toll on the mouth. Cancer treatment may cause issues with eating, talking, and swallowing for patients — thus lessening the overall quality of life and interfering further with cancer treatment. Common symptoms of head and neck radiation include dry mouth, infections, jaw bone changes, jaw stiffness, loss of taste or changes in the way food tastes, sore mouth and gums, and severe tooth decay. Chemotherapy may lead to changes in taste, changes to the tongue (burning, peeling, or swelling), dry mouth, infection, mouth ulcers, and painful mouth and gums.
It is vital for patients to let their dentists know about any concurrent treatments they are undergoing — or any cancers that they have previously suffered. Patients should also ensure their dentists and oncologists are in contact with each other to devise the best, personalized treatment plan for them. If possible, patients should see a dentist about their month before beginning cancer treatment. This can help ensure the health of the mouth. If they have already begun radiation treatment, patients should ask their dentists about using fluoride gel and jaw muscle exercises to stay in optimal health.
Complete health dentists vary from traditional dentists in that they look at the patient first — not just the condition. In traditional dentistry, patients are typically treated as passive recipients of care. They do not receive any education on their condition or how to improve it.
Complete health dentists emphasize the collaborative nature of a successful doctor-patient relationship. They work together to understand the healthy mouth baseline, set realistic goals, and consider the individual risk factors unique to the patient.
Right now, there is insufficient evidence to determine whether or not the relationship between periodontal disease and cancer is causal. However, there is certainly a correlative relationship between the two. Periodontal disease is also associated with various systemic conditions, strongly suggesting that we should not overlook the interconnectedness of the body.
There are various risk factors associated with periodontal disease, many of which are lifestyle-related. These involve excessive alcohol consumption, tobacco use, and poor nutrition. Age, genetics, medications, stress, and teeth grinding may also play a factor. We can help identify your risk factors and how to work around them.
Practicing good oral hygiene is the easiest way to protect yourself from periodontal disease. Brush your teeth at least twice daily with a fluoridated toothpaste and floss at night. Eat a balanced diet and drink fluoridated water. Practice proper brushing technique, making sure not to over- or under-brush.
Most cancers of the mouth or oral cavity occur in the floor of the mouth and tongue. However, they may also occur in the cheek lining, gums, lips, and upper or lower jaw. There is also an area right behind the mouth known as the oropharynx. Oropharyngeal cancer refers to any type of cancer that occurs behind the tongue, tonsils, and throat tissue. This makes up about one-third of all oral cancer cases.