Problems with your teeth after childhood cancer

Problems with your teeth after childhood cancer

Some young people who have had certain types of treatment are more likely to have problems with their teeth. It is important to see your dentist regularly - at least once a year. 

Key points to remember about your teeth after childhood cancer

This page is written for young people who have had cancer treatment.

  • caring for your teeth is important whether you have had treatment for cancer or not
  • certain types of cancer treatment are more likely to result in problems

Do I need to take special care of my teeth after childhood cancer?

Caring for your teeth is important, whether you have had treatment for cancer or not. Some young people who have had certain types of treatment are more likely to have problems with their teeth.

Have a dental checkup at least once a year.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy can affect teeth, particularly if you were 5 years of age or younger at the time of treatment. The quality of your tooth enamel (the outer covering) can be affected. This can lead to discolouration and/or cavities. Some adult teeth may be missing or have abnormal roots.

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy to the head or neck area can also cause damage to growing teeth, and roots of teeth, and occasionally a tooth doesn't grow through the gum properly. It can also cause dryness in your mouth and/or a lack of saliva. This makes it easier for decay to start.

Metal bone replacement or bone graft

If you have a metal bone replacement or bone graft (prosthesis), any 'bugs' that enter the blood stream through tooth decay may cause a serious infection around the prosthesis.

Spleen removal

If you have had your spleen removed (splenectomy) tooth decay can lead to serious infection, so regular checks are important.

Do I need to take special precautions when having dental work after childhood cancer?

It is very important your dentist knows what treatment you had in the past. You may need antibiotics before starting dental treatment.

It is important to tell your dentist if you have had any of the following:

  • shunt (tube that drains the fluid from the brain).
  • limb salvage (metal bone replacement or bone graft)
  • damaged heart valve (sometimes happens after radiation to the chest)

You may need antibiotics before any dental treatment, including cleaning.

The reason for antibiotics is to prevent infection. When you have any work on your teeth, bacteria that normally live in your mouth are released into the bloodstream. These bacteria can attach themselves to the graft, abnormal valve or shunt and cause an infection.

Do I need to see a dentist regularly after childhood cancer?

It is important to see your dentist regularly - at least once a year. Dentists can give you advice about all aspects of dental care. 

Dental care is free up until your 18th birthday. If your dentist doesn't offer this free service, call 0800 Talk Teeth (0800 825 583) and they will help you find a dentist near you who does.

Your dentist can arrange for any specialist treatment, including with an orthodontist if needed. Treatment by orthodontists is not funded in New Zealand so there will be a cost for that. 

All the pages in the childhood cancer section of this website have been written by health professionals who work in the field of paediatric oncology. They have been reviewed by the members of the National Child Cancer Network (NZ). Medical information is authorised by the clinical leader of the National Child Cancer Network.

This page last reviewed 26 November 2018.
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