Use of Fluoride Trays by Patients Receiving Radiation for Cancer of the Head or Neck


To discuss what fluoride trays are and why they are necessary, it is first helpful to examine what happens when a patient receives radiation for cancer in the head or neck region. It is very difficult to exclude the salivary glands from the radiation field when a patient has radiation for cancer of the head or neck.   Radiation therapy may affect the salivary glands and the result is a change in the quantity and quality of the saliva. Saliva is important when discussing oral health because it both lubricates the mouth and balances the mouth’s acidity, thereby preventing tooth decay. As a result of radiation, most patients experience dryness in the mouth, called xerostomia.

A certain amount of dryness will probably persist forever after radiation therapy to the head and neck. The most common problem associated with dry mouth is rampant dental decay and periodontal (gum) disease. DAILY application of fluoride has been shown to be effective in preventing these problems. If a patient is not compliant, dental disease, oral infections and infections of the jaw bone are common problems.

Prior to beginning radiation therapy, during the pre-radiation evaluation, custom topical fluoride trays are fabricated. These trays allow application of topical fluoride daily to help decrease the incidence of dental caries and infection.

Patients should also be aware of the need for meticulous oral hygiene, as remaining teeth are usually at risk for dental caries secondary to their xerostomia, or lack of saliva. Long term maintenance includes three month visits to the family dentist or periodontist for cleaning and checkups. This is a lifelong commitment that patients need to make for optimal oral health.

If you have any questions, please contact our office for assistance.


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