Radiation caries is a type of dental decay that occurs as a result of radiation therapy to the head and neck, which is commonly used to treat oral cancer. This condition can be a serious complication for oral cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy, as it can lead to pain, infection, and tooth loss.
Radiation therapy works by damaging the DNA of cancer cells, which prevents them from growing and dividing. However, the radiation can also damage healthy cells in the mouth, including the salivary glands, which produce saliva that helps protect the teeth from decay. Without enough saliva, the mouth becomes dry, which can lead to an increased risk of dental decay.
Radiation caries typically develops in areas of the teeth that are exposed to radiation, such as the biting surfaces and the areas near the gum line. The decay may progress rapidly and may be difficult to treat.
Symptoms of radiation caries may include tooth sensitivity, pain, and visible decay or discoloration on the teeth. If left untreated, the decay can spread and lead to infection or tooth loss.
Prevention is key when it comes to radiation caries. Oral cancer patients should receive dental care before starting radiation therapy to ensure that any existing dental issues are addressed. During radiation therapy, patients should practice good oral hygiene and avoid sugary foods and drinks. It may also be necessary to use fluoride products, such as toothpaste or mouthwash, to help protect the teeth from decay.
Treatment for radiation caries may involve filling or crowning the affected teeth, or in more severe cases, extraction of the affected teeth. If the salivary glands have been damaged, patients may need to use artificial saliva to help keep the mouth moist.
In conclusion, radiation caries is a potential complication of radiation therapy for oral cancer patients. Prevention through good oral hygiene and regular dental care is key to avoiding this condition. If radiation caries does develop, prompt treatment can help prevent further damage to the teeth and surrounding tissues. Patients undergoing radiation therapy for oral cancer should work closely with their healthcare team and dentist to manage any potential complications.