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. 2000 Jun;117(6):36-45.

The Role of Dentistry in Palliative Care of the Head and Neck Cancer Patient

  • PMID: 11857854

The Role of Dentistry in Palliative Care of the Head and Neck Cancer Patient

E D Paunovich et al. Tex Dent J. .


Although palliative care for the terminally ill is based on a multidimensional philosophy to provide whole-person comfort care while maintaining optimal function, it does not usually include dentistry in its team approach. Dentists can have a significant role in the care of these patients by providing total, active comfort care of the oral cavity. The function of the oral cavity is essential to the patient's ability to thrive. Therefore, alleviation of pain and prevention of infection in the oral cavity should be a priority in providing total, active comfort for the patient. The oral problems experienced by the hospice head and neck patient clearly affect the quality of his or her remaining life. Through routine assessments and interventions by a dentist on the palliative care team (Figure 4), comfort care for the patient may be improved by the maintenance of oral hygiene and procedures to hydrate the oral mucosa. In addition, routine dental assessments may identify dental disease and facilitate dental interventions for caries, periodontal disease, oral mucosal problems or prosthetic needs. Attention to such detail may reduce not only the microbial load of the mouth but the risk for pain and oral infection as well. This multidisciplinary approach to palliative care, including a dentist, may reduce the oral debilities that influence the patient's ability to speak, eat or swallow. Not only does maintenance of oral health have impact on the quality of life, which is already challenged by the disease, but it also aids in the ability of patients to thrive for whatever precious time is left to them.

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