Dental Hygienists’ Expanding Role in Caring for Cancer Patients and Survivors


By 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that there will be more than 1.9 million new cancer cases per year in the United States. During that same time period, the number of cancer survivors is expected to increase to 18 million as improved treatments allow for longer lifespans.

The oral-systemic ramifications of cancer treatments are well established. The dental hygienist plays an ¬important role in interprofessional collaboration to meet the unique oral healthcare needs of cancer patients and survivors, improving their health and quality of lives during all stages of treatment. Traditionally, dental hygienists have supported cancer patients as direct care providers in private practice by providing life-saving screenings, assessment, education, and treatment of cancer therapy side effects. But, we can expand upon this role to address the needs of this increasing patient population by working in multidisciplinary teams, educating other healthcare professionals and care givers, and working in cancer treatment facilities.

As the number of individuals with cancer and survivors increase, dental hygienists have the potential to improve their oral and overall health outcomes in multiple settings. This course will present guidelines and suggestions to support hygienists in both providing oral care to cancer patients and survivors as well as fostering the multiple roles that they can fulfill within an interprofessional healthcare team.

Course Objectives:

  1. Recognize the unique oral-systemic needs of cancer patients during all phases of treatment.
  2. Discuss the impact dental hygienists can have on a patient with cancer or survivor and begin to recognize how dental hygienists’ impact can go beyond traditional clinical care.
  3. Identify the clinical and interprofessional roles dental hygienists can assume in the care of patients with cancer and consider additional interprofessional opportunities.

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