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When Your Patient Needs an Oral Medicine Evaluation

Whether your patient is being treated for cancer, has an autoimmune disease or an inflammatory condition that is causing an oral problem apart from the teeth and gums, they may benefit from an evaluation and treatment by an oral medicine specialist.

Alessandro Villa, DDS, MPH, Ph.D

Alessandro Villa, DDS, MPH, Ph.D., is the only cancer center-based oral medicine specialist in South Florida. As chief of Oral Medicine, Oral Oncology and Dentistry at Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute, he sees patients with issues of the lips, roof of the mouth, tongue, salivary glands and the inner lining of the cheeks — whether or not they have cancer.

“Many conditions can cause mouth problems that affect quality of life. Sometimes patients cannot eat or speak due to sores in their mouth, pain or mouth dryness. In addition, oral toxicities and complications can come along with cancer treatment. But there are many things we can do to lessen and eliminate these side effects.”

Common problems associated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy, as well as noncancerous conditions such as gastrointestinal and rheumatologic disorders, include oral mucositis, infection, burning mouth syndrome and salivary gland dysfunction. Anyone with a sore, bump or colored lesion in the mouth that doesn’t go away, a dry or painful mouth or a canker sore that doesn’t heal should see a specialist, Dr. Villa says.

It's particularly important for cancer patients who are scheduled for bone marrow transplants or head and neck radiation to undergo a dental evaluation before they begin treatment, Dr. Villa says. A tooth or other mouth problem that occurs during or after treatment can lead to severe complications. These evaluations can typically be done by a dentist, and Dr. Villa has developed a dental education packet for patients to bring to their dentists to obtain any X-rays or clearance necessary prior to starting treatment.

Oral complications occur in some 40 percent of patients who receive chemotherapy, 80 percent of patients who undergo a stem cell transplant and 90 percent of those who receive radiation for head and neck malignancies, Dr. Villa says.

The Italian-born and -raised Dr. Villa, whose father is a dentist, graduated from University of Milano. He completed a residency in oral medicine at Harvard School of Dental Medicine/Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and a post-doctoral fellowship at the National Cancer Institute. Before joining Miami Cancer Institute, he was chief of oral medicine at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center and an associate clinical professor of oral medicine and otolaryngology. He also directed the oral medicine residency programs at UCSF and Harvard and is leading a new oral oncology fellowship program at Miami Cancer Institute.

Conditions treated by Dr. Villa include oral lichen planus, aphthous ulcers, pemphigoid and pemphigus, dry mouth, oral graft-versus-host disease, jaw osteonecrosis, burning mouth syndrome, temporomandibular disorders, oral infections (HSV and candidiasis), oral precancers such as leukoplakia and oral toxicities of targeted therapies and immunotherapies. Procedures performed include biopsy of oral lesions, intralesional steroid injections, nonsurgical sequestrectomy (of the jawbone), topical and systemic medical treatments and trigger point injections.

Dr. Villa is also involved in research, participating in and heading clinical trials that include red light therapy for mucositis, a gene therapy study for salivary gland dysfunction and a new topical solution for burning mouth syndrome and oral dysesthesia.

For more information on the clinical trials, or to make an appointment with Dr. Villa, email

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