Cancer patients benefit from dental clinic

July 12, 2013

Cancer treatment brings a daunting array of life changes for patients and their families. Dental complications are one small but significant impact of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.

Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry (TAMBCD) championed the establishment of the dental clinic at Baylor University Medical Center’s (BUMC) Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center in Dallas to help patients minimize the side effects of cancer treatment.

The dental school’s presence is apparent at the clinic, which is staffed almost entirely by college faculty and alumni. The personnel include a medical director, three part-time dentists, a dental assistant and a dental hygienist who also serves as clinic manager.

Before the Sammons Cancer Center dental clinic opened in 2011, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston was the only cancer center in Texas offering a full-range facility that included dentistry.

By working to prevent oral infection and reduce oral pain and long-term loss of function, the clinic’s dentists and dental hygienists improve the quality of life for cancer patients. The clinic also serves transplant and cardiac surgery patients referred by hospital physicians and can be vitally important for optimal patient outcomes.

“We work closely with oncologists and transplant teams in monitoring blood counts, immunosuppressive drug administration, and location/amount of radiation that may indirectly affect teeth and directly affect soft tissue in the oral cavity,” says Dr. Kenneth A. Bolin, associate professor at TAMBCD and the clinic’s medical director. “This holistic approach to caring for cancer patients is invaluable.”

Oral assessments are critical for patients before they begin cancer treatment so that any restorative dental needs or infections can be treated in advance. During treatment, dental oncology professionals assist in preventing and treating mouth and throat sores, dry mouth, infections or any other complications that arise in the process of eliminating cancer cells from the body.

“Even as recently as a few years ago, standard care included removing all the teeth before radiation therapy began,” says Jane Cotter, clinic manager, who earned a master’s degree in dental hygiene from TAMBCD in 2009. “Now we are only removing what’s necessary and are adding preventive measures such as fluoride trays, prescription fluoride toothpaste and a three-month appointment recall.

“Radiation patients often have a dry mouth that can lead to dental problems without this type of intervention,” Cotter continues. “People now have a better quality of life after treatment because they are still able to continue to chew food with their natural teeth. They’re healthier as they go through therapy, and hopefully they will be healthier in survivorship.”

For information about the clinic’s services, call 214.820.3535.

— LaDawn Brock

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