Cancer therapies bring hope to millions of patients worldwide, but chemotherapy and radiation can also result in secondary conditions that require treatment. St. Francisville dentist Dr. Clay Couvillon is on a mission to bring awareness to the issue of dental oncology, and to find a way to make dental care during cancer accessible for those who can’t afford to pay for it.
“When a cancer patient undergoes chemotherapy or radiation, side effects in the mouth are extremely common,” says Clay, a partner at Sullivan Dental Center on Commerce Street. “It’s really important to look at dental oncology as part of treating the whole body and as a way to keep someone as healthy as possible before, during and after the cancer fight.”
Clay is one of the few dentists in the South who focuses in dental oncology, which focuses on the prevention and treatment of oral pain, infections, and complications resulting from chemotherapy, radiation, and other forms of cancer treatment. Mouth infections, trouble swallowing, and dental and gum problems are especially common in patients suffering from cancers in the head and neck area. However, side effects in the mouth can arise for anyone undergoing immunosuppressive therapies.
“It’s not only important for a patient’s long-term oral function, but it’s also an important step in making sure a patient stays healthy throughout treatment,” Clay says.
Dental care can make a significant impact on a cancer patient’s everyday life. One of Clay's dental oncology patients, Lester Guidroz, was experiencing a painful mouth ulcer that would not heal. It kept Lester from eating, causing him to lose 40 pounds and depleting his body of important nutrients. After Clay successfully treated the ulcer, Lester could comfortably eat again.
As a holistic dentist, Clay sees the correlation between a patient’s oral and overall health. He wants to negate perceptions that dentistry can be painful or costly, and instead, promote it as a key component of wellness.
“My goal is to create awareness of the importance of the dental component in a collaborative cancer care model,” Clay says.
One of the main challenges with this form of cancer care is that it’s often not covered by dental or medical insurance. To ease the burden, Clay donates 10% of his monthly proceeds toward supporting cancer patients, and he launched the Louisiana Dental Oncology Foundation earlier this year. The burgeoning foundation has received its nonprofit designation from the IRS and appointed a board of directors comprised of experienced community members, including Bank of St. Francisville President and CEO Carter Leak, IV.
Clay says the Dental Oncology Foundation will soon pursue its first objectives, which will include fundraising, as well as developing programs to support affordable dental care for cancer patients in the region.
To learn more about the Dental Oncology Foundation, click here.