Starting the New Year with a New Smile

“A smile is the best makeup a girl can wear”- Marilyn Monroe.

After a tough battle against throat cancer, Linda Morrow’s “makeup” was in danger. Her dentist told her that her teeth had been damaged by the radiation treatments, a common but unfortunate side effect.

“My teeth were in such bad shape, they were in danger of breaking off while I was eating,” remembers Morrow.

Morrow needed to have several teeth pulled and a dental bridge put in to hold the replacement teeth. She met with an oral surgeon who pointed out a potential problem with her weakened bones: her teeth might break off during surgery or her jaw bone might not be strong enough to support the bridge. He recommended hyperbaric oxygen therapy to get her jaw, teeth, and soft tissues in tip-top condition before surgery.

“Radiation can damage the blood vessels in the bone, leading to bone death, formally called osteoradionecrosis.  The goal of a hyperbaric treatment is to reoxygenate the blood, which promotes the healing of damaged bone and soft tissue,” says Mark Edelman, M.D., a plastic surgeon affiliated with Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center.

“I had taken an active role in my health for a long time, but I had never heard of ‘HBO’ therapy. I consulted with several physicians about the therapy, before coming to Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center for an evaluation by Dr. Edelman,” says Morrow.

Dr. Edelman says the usual evaluation for HBO therapy includes a detailed medical history and physical exam.  Depending on a patient’s insurance, they may need a referral from a primary care physician as well. After finding evidence of osteoradionecrosis, Morrow was prescribed 20 HBO therapy sessions before surgery, and 10 more following her surgery.

“Patients lie in the HBO chamber under increased air pressure for about 2 hours. The best way to describe it is to compare it to scuba diving. Your ears may pop, but that’s really the only way you’d realize you were under extra pressure,” says Dr. Edelman.

Morrow says the HBO therapy made a big difference in her surgery.

“When I did have the surgery, the oral surgeon was so complimentary of the condition of my mouth. He said my gums were healthy and pink and he was encouraged that I would have a good outcome,” says Morrow.

Dr. Edelman says head and neck cancer patients like Linda aren’t the only ones who can benefit from HBO therapy.

“Osteoradionecrosis can happen to any cancer patient who’s had radiation treatment, including breast and prostate cancer patients. For those who choose to undergo HBO therapy, we’ve seen great results in improving their bone health,” says Edelman.

“I can’t say enough good things about the staff I interacted with. The treatments take a while, but everyone was so joyful that it made for a great experience,” says Morrow. “Now my mouth is in much better condition and my smile is as bright as ever.”

The Amputation Prevention Center ® and Wound Care at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center is staffed with a multidisciplinary team of affiliated physicians along with nurses and technicians with advanced training in wound care and hyperbaric medicine. The team is dedicated to optimizing outcomes and preventing lower limb loss in patients with chronic, non-healing wounds. Learn more about Memorial Hermann Wound Care.

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