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Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer (PDQ®): Treatment - Patient Information [NCI] - Digestive System

Teeth and jaws

Problems with the teeth and jaws are late effects that are more likely to occur after treatment for certain childhood cancers.

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Treatment for these and other childhood cancers may cause the late effect of problems with teeth and jaws:

Radiation to the head and neck and certain chemotherapy drugs increase the risk of late effects to the teeth and jaws.

The risk of health problems that affect the teeth and jaws increases after treatment with the following:

Risk may also be increased in survivors who were younger than 5 years at the time of treatment because their permanent teeth had not fully formed.

Late effects that affect the teeth and jaws may cause certain health problems.

Childhood cancer survivors who received radiation to the head and neck or certain chemotherapy drugs are at risk of late effects to the teeth and jaws. These include the following:

  • Teeth that are not normal.
  • Tooth decay (including cavities) and gum disease.
  • Salivary glands do not make enough saliva.
  • Jaw bones do not fully form.
  • Death of the bone cells in the jaw.

Possible signs of late effects of the teeth and jaws include tooth decay (cavities) and jaw pain.

These symptoms may be caused by late effects of the teeth and jaws:

  • Teeth are small or do not have a normal shape.
  • Missing permanent teeth.
  • Permanent teeth come in at a later than normal age.
  • More tooth decay (cavities) and gum disease than normal.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Jaw pain.
  • Jaws do not open and close the way they should.

Other conditions may cause the same symptoms. Talk to your child's doctor if your child has any of these problems.

Certain tests and procedures are used to detect (find) and diagnose health problems in the mouth and jaws.

These and other tests and procedures may be used to detect or diagnose late effects of the teeth and jaws:

  • Dental exam and history: An exam of the teeth, mouth, and jaws to check general signs of dental health, including checking for signs of disease, such as cavities or anything that seems unusual. A history of the patient's health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken. This may also be called a dental check-up.
  • Panorex x-ray: An x-ray of all of the teeth and their roots. An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.
  • X-ray of the jaws: An x-ray of the jaws. An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.
  • CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, such as the head and neck, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, such as the head and neck. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).
  • Biopsy: The removal of bone cells from the jaw so they can be viewed under a microscope to check for signs of bone death after radiation therapy.
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WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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