Neutropenia is a blood disorder that affects people with cancer, especially anyone undergoing chemotherapy. In fact, experts estimate that around half of all chemotherapy patients experience neutropenia to some extent, and blood disorders like this can affect the success of dental implants in some patients. If you suffer with neutropenia, find out how the condition affects your body, and learn more about the risks you face if you decide to have a dental implant.
How neutropenia affects the body
People with neutropenia have abnormally low levels of neutrophils, which are the vital white blood cells that help your body cope with infections. Neutrophils occur naturally in your bone marrow, but the chemicals used during chemotherapy can stop the body producing these crucial cells. To diagnose neutropenia, a doctor will record a count of 1,700 or fewer neutrophils per microliter of blood.
Neutropenia does not actually cause any immediate symptoms, and the first sign is often a feeling of fatigue or exhaustion. Nonetheless, neutropenia is a serious condition. Without these vital white blood cells, a relatively mild infection can quickly become more dangerous.
Neutropenia and dental implant surgery
People with neutropenia are at higher risk of complications following dental treatment. Dental implants are particularly risky, because the procedure needed to fit the replacement teeth is so invasive.
When you have a dental implant, you undergo surgery. Like any other form of surgery, side effects can occur. Most commonly, dental implant patients may experience a mild infection at the implant site.
If your body doesn't have the critical neutrophils it needs to deal with the infection, you could run into trouble. A serious infection can cause the implant to completely fail, after which you may need more extensive surgery and treatment to fix the problem.
One of the biggest problems with neutropenia is that the patient won't see the usual signs of an infection. Whereas another dental implant patient would start to experience symptoms like soreness and swelling, somebody with neutropenia may not see any obvious signs. As such, conditions like gum disease, yeast infections and oral ulcers may become more nasty for these patients because they don't seek early treatment.
Understanding the risk
You must always tell your dentist about any underlying health conditions you have and any treatment your doctor prescribes. As well as chemotherapy, some types of cancer can cause the disease, including leukemia and lymphoma. Radiation therapy to the bones in your pelvis, legs, chest or abdomen can also cause neutropenia.
Some people with cancer are at even higher risk of neutropenia. For example, anyone aged over 70 is more likely to suffer this complication, as well as people with HIV or other diseases that affect your immune system.
Precautions your dentist can take
Once your dentist realizes that you are at a higher risk of neutropenia, he or she will normally ask for details of your latest blood tests. This information can help your dentist decide if you he or she needs to take special precautions.
Your neutrophil count slowly increases between each session of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. As such, for some patients, the dentist may simply suggest that you wait until your white blood cell count increases before you have implant surgery.
If it's not possible (or you don't want) to wait, your dentist will normally prescribe strong antibiotics. This medication can help boost your body's immune system and will help you fight an infection. You'll probably need to keep taking the medication for a few days after the implant surgery. Make sure you closely follow the directions your dentist gives, particularly when it comes to keeping the implant site clean.
Neutropenia is a serious condition that affects many people with cancer. If you have the disease, make sure you carefully consult your dentist and your doctor before you have dental implant surgery.