Niveditha Venkatesh, BDS, MSD, MPH
Oral side effects during and after cancer treatment can be debilitating. For example, I once cared for a patient who had a severe case of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). This condition can develop after a stem cell transplant when a donor’s immune cells attack tissues in the patient’s mouth or other areas of the body. This particular patient had enlarged salivary glands. Her mouth was so dry she could barely close it, and she was unable to talk or eat. Eventually, we were able to get the GVHD under control, and she went on to do really well. It’s gratifying to be able to work with people like her, to contribute to their health — even in a small way — during such a vulnerable time in life.
I focus on taking things step by step. When you’re facing a transplant or some other form of cancer treatment, there’s already a lot of information to take in. I think patients appreciate that I share what is helpful to know in the moment about maintaining oral health, rather than overburdening them with information that isn’t likely to be useful right now. People also seem to value that my colleagues and I on the Oral Medicine Service are always available for questions. We even work with patients remotely, if they have oral concerns and can’t visit the clinic. Knowing we’re here — whether in person, by phone or by email — can be a source of relief for many patients.
I specialize in managing oral symptoms and oral complications associated with cancer and treatment. My expertise includes working with patients who are undergoing hematopoietic (blood-forming) stem cell transplantation. For these patients, I provide pre-transplant evaluations to eliminate potential sources of infection, address any oral problems that appear post-transplant and help them maintain their oral health in the long term. I also work with people who receive other forms of cancer treatment and have oral concerns. In addition to caring for patients, I study the oral effects of chronic GVHD, seeking to better understand the disease process and to improve the management of this common post-transplant condition.
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