While researching content for “WTF is Magic Mouthwash or Miracle Mouthwash?” & “Dental Care & Care”, I now realize the importance of working with a dentist who really understands cancer before beginning cancer treatments as well as throughout treatment and in some cases, even after treatment ends.
Meet the Dental Oncologist
There is a type of dentist called a “dental oncologist”. Dental oncologists are not prescribing oncologists- they don’t prescribe chemotherapy and they don’t help “cure” your cancer…. instead, they help cancer patients hopefully avoid or minimize one of the most painful & potentially dangerous side effects resulting from cancer treatments…. mouth sores, ulcers, infections, bleeding, etc. (click HERE for more on the potential oral complications from the Natl Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research)
Since dental oncology is a relatively new area of expertise, there may not be a specialist in your area. So the next best thing is to find a dentist who truly understands the “ins & outs” of oral care during cancer treatments.
A few tips to help cancer patients find that “right” dentist…
1. Interview the dentist – either on the telephone or in person – to see if he or she is the best fit to be a member or your oncology care team. Remember, depending upon your proposed treatment, oral side effects of modern cancer therapies can range from slightly annoying to a royal P in the A. You need a dental professional that you trust on your side to help you through the tuff times. Here are a few questions you can ask:
- Have you ever treated patients with cancer or are you comfortable treating patients with cancer?
- What kind of oral side effects can I expect once I begin my cancer treatment and what can you do to help?
- Are you comfortable requesting lab results/blood work from my oncologist’s office and do you know which results are important to monitor while I’m going through cancer treatment?
- Will you communicate directly with my oncologist?
- What can I expect with regard to my oral health and care in your office after my cancer treatment is complete?
2. Take a look on the internet and see what you can find out about your dentist. The more positive reviews the better, and some dentists will provide evidence of accreditation’s. For an example dentist who showcases their accreditation’s, click here.
3. Be prepared that the dentist you’ve seen for years may not feel comfortable treating you after learning of your diagnosis of cancer. You should understand that this is most likely because he or she does not feel comfortable with his or her level of proficiency in the area of cancer care, and has nothing to do with you personally. Don’t take it as a rejection, but rather an invitation to seek care from someone who better understands what you are, or will be, going through.
4. If there is not a dental oncologist or a dentist that focuses on oral health care during cancer care in your area, seek out the services of a periodontist. Periodontology is a specialty recognized by the American Dental Association, and periodontists have a strong background in understanding how oral health relates to systemic health. Some periodontists focus their practice on oral medicine (while others focus on placing implants or gum surgery). Beyond a dentist with experience in cancer care, a periodontist may be your best bet.
***Many thanks to my very favorite dentist Dr. Dennis Abbott of Dental Oncology Professionals of North Texas for compiling this list of tips & questions to ask when interviewing dentists. YOU rock Dr. Abbott!***