With over 1.4 million new cases of cancer diagnosed each year, it is inevitable that you or someone you love will be affected by a form of cancer. While effective at treating the disease and stopping cancerous cells from spreading, many cancer treatments can have negative effects on teeth and gums–leading to painful mouth problems. However, a visit to the dentist before beginning treatment can be an important step in preventing issues and also help you manage the oral side-effects of cancer treatment.
Your dentist and their team of professionals can help you learn what changes you might expect during cancer treatment so you can best care for your teeth and gums. One of the most noticeable side-effects of cancer treatment is decreased saliva, also known as dry mouth. Dry mouth can make speaking, chewing and swallowing very uncomfortable. It can also affect the taste of food and how dentures fit.
Because treatments can cause a decrease in saliva, which helps protect your teeth from dental cavities, regular dental visits and dental cleanings during treatment are important to minimize the damage to your teeth. In some cases, your dentist may recommend having dental cleanings more frequently or recommend supplemental fluoride gel to help protect your teeth.
Here are 7 ways Dr. Berry suggests you can protect and keep your mouth healthy during cancer treatment:
1. Brush your teeth and tongue with an extra soft toothbrush after every meal and at bedtime. If your mouth is very sore, soften the bristles with warm water and use lukewarm water to brush.
2. Floss teeth at least once per day to remove food debris and plaque.
3. Keep your mouth moist by rinsing often with water or chew a piece of sugarless gum to stimulate the flow of saliva. You can also use an over-the-counter salivary substitute such as Oasis Moisturizing Spray. Avoid alcohol containing mouthwashes as they will dry out your mouth even more. If your mouth is very sore, ask your cancer care team or dentist about medicines that can help with the pain.
4. Choose soft, easy-to chew foods that are room temperature or lukewarm. Avoid spicy, sour, crunchy or extremely hot or cold foods that may irritate your gums. Also avoid alcoholic drinks–just like mouthwashes, the alcohol can dry out your mouth.
5. If your mouth or throat feels sore (or after vomiting), rinse your mouth with ¼ teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in 1 cup of warm water. Do not swallow.
6. If your chewing muscles feel stiff, open and close your jaw as far as you can, without pain, for 20 repetitions. Repeat 3 times per day.
7. Check your mouth every day for sores, swelling, bleeding, pain or sticky white film, as these may be signs of infection. Call you dentist right away if you notice any of these signs.
By including a dentist on your cancer care team, you are better equipped to prevent problems and manage any oral issues that arise. In some instances, oral complications from cancer treatment can be debilitating and require changes in treatment such as lower doses of therapy and postponed or discontinued treatment. By being proactive with oral health before and during cancer treatment, you will be able to keep your mouth as healthy as possible– reducing pain and other oral complications.