While there are many causes of periodontal (or gum) disease, from family history to poor oral hygiene to medications to changes in hormones, undergoing cancer treatment can also have an impact on gum health. Some cancer therapies can exacerbate existing periodontal disease, while others can increase the risk of developing new disorders of the gums.

Periodontal disease is a serious issue that must be addressed in cancer patients because it can lead to not only local problems, such as oral pain and infections of the gums and mouth, but also systemic infections that could become life-threatening. Because of the potential for these more serious conditions, it is important to address periodontal problems before, during, and after cancer treatment and to monitor the gums carefully throughout treatment.

To mitigate some of the periodontal problems associated with treatment for cancer, here are some important steps to take:

Get Pre-Treated.

 If you have an existing periodontal concern, it's important to consult your dentist before receiving cancer treatment. This is particularly crucial if you are due to receive radiation therapy to the head or neck. Any periodontal treatment that you need to help control existing disease should be carried out, if possible, before cancer treatment commences.

For those patients who have not been diagnosed with periodontal disease, a full dental examination is still an important step to take before receiving any type of treatment. Your dentist will screen for problems that you might not know you have and give you tips for maintaining a healthy oral environment during  and after completing treatment. 

Be Aware of Signs.

Your dentist can work with you to identify possible concerns that could crop up during treatment so that you can be primed for the early detection of periodontal disease that could occur due to a compromised immune system. You should keep an eye out for gum inflammation resulting in swollen and tender gums as well as bleeding gums, as these are signs that you may be developing periodontal disease.

Schedule a Follow-Up.

Once your cancer treatment regimen has been completed, it's important to schedule another visit with your dentist to assess whether there have been any changes to your oral health. At this point, it's a good idea to address any problems that have arisen, particularly if you will be undergoing future rounds of treatment. Certain types of chemotherapy can also predispose patients to future gum problems, and patients should be aware that their gums will need careful future monitoring.

Special Considerations.

Your dentist's oral care recommendations during cancer treatment may vary depending on the type of treatment you will receive. As mentioned, radiation therapy of the head and neck can put patients at higher risk for gum problems, and patients undergoing this type of cancer management should be carefully supervised by a dentist throughout treatment. Meanwhile, chemotherapy treatment can also have an impact on oral health, including oral discomfort. It's important that chemotherapy patients continue an oral hygiene regimen to guard against the development of periodontal disease; your dentist can help you develop a modified oral hygiene plan. Ask for advice on types of toothbrushes, toothpaste, and mouth rinses to use as well as the best way to go about brushing and flossing for minimum discomfort.

As with any disease, periodontal disease should be screened for continually and monitored in the long term. This is even more important if you are due to receive cancer treatment. By partnering with your dentist and other healthcare providers, you will be able to stay on top of any periodontal problems that might arise.