Timely oral care

Timely oral care

Timely oral care
Cancer has been a leading cause for concern for many medical professionals across the world. Global statistics reveal that in 2012, there were 14 million new cases and 8.2 million cancer-related deaths worldwide.

It also indicated that 1,45,400 deaths occurred from oral cavity cancer, with smoking responsible for 71% of deaths in high-income countries and 37% of deaths in low-income and middle-income countries.  However, the data by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is what is more disturbing. It shows that a large number of the cancer centres in India are not adequately equipped with advanced cancer care equipment. Further, appropriate cancer screening methods are not practised in an organised manner.

Setting up oral care for cancer patients is an urgent need. If overlooked, it can have serious consequences. Oral complications occur in almost all patients receiving radiation for head and neck malignancies, in up to 75% of blood and marrow transplant recipients, and in nearly 40% of patients receiving chemotherapy.

Identification

Studies indicate that oral complications from radiation to the head and neck or chemotherapy can compromise patients’ health and quality of life and affect their ability to complete the planned cancer treatment.

Often, oral complications can also lead to serious systemic infections. Needless to say, dentistry services are required to identify potential sources of dental infection or irritation.

Dentists are most likely to find children and adults in their care who may present  a need for urgent dental care in the future, before or after cancer treatment. Appropriate preventive regimens and timely oral care can minimise the complications in the future.

The first step

What is heartening though is that cancers, in particular oral cancer, can be diagnosed early and treated successfully. It is important that specialised services for oral diagnosis and treatment are set up urgently within existing cancer speciality treatment centers. Cancers in accessible parts of the body like the oral cavity may be detected at an early stage or even in a precancerous stage through inspection and examination.

All cancer patients should be assessed by a suitably qualified dental practitioner before and after their treatment. Correct diagnosis and evidence-based prophylactic and therapeutic oral care can significantly improve the patient’s quality of life. An integrated multidisciplinary healthcare team including dental expertise must be the initial step to provide optimum treatment for cancer patients. Integration of oral care with oncology care requires effective communication between dental and medical providers, beginning ideally at diagnosis.

(The author is founder & chairman, Vatsalya — Centre for Oral Health, Bengaluru)
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