By Margot Malin, Founder, CEO and President of Lots To Live For, Inc.
Chemotherapy and oncology radiation can cause oral complications. In fact, oral complications from radiation to the head and neck or chemotherapy are extremely common and can compromise quality of life and affect the patient’s ability to complete his or her treatment protocol. Therefore, it is important to be aware of some of the side effects to the mouth, gums, and teeth that can result from cancer treatment. In this blog post we offer some helpful tips so that you can be adequately prepared. To simplify the discussion we have organized this post into 3 parts: Part One – Before Beginning Chemo and Radiation; Part Two – Probable Oral Side Effects; Part Three – Tips for Maintaining Oral Health and Comfort Including Product Suggestions
Before Beginning Chemotherapy and Radiation
Approximately one month prior to starting a cancer treatment protocol it is a good idea to have an oral assessment from a dentist. This visit is often called “pretreatment” oral care. It allows for prompt identification and treatment of existing infections or other problems. It is also a good idea to have on oral prophylaxis (cleaning). Oral surgery should be timed at least two weeks prior to starting myelosuppressive chemotherapy.
Probable Oral Side Effects from Chemo and Radiation
Once chemo and / or radiation has begun, probably side effects with affect the mouth and gums may include:
- Oral mucositis/stomatitis or inflammation and ulceration of the mucus membranes.
- Infection – viral, bacterial or fungal infections may occur
- Xerostomia also known as dry mouth, is caused by salivary gland dysfunction. Persistent dry mouth increases the risk of dental issues.
- Mouth sores may develop
- Functional disabilities such as an impaired ability to eat, taste, swallow and speak
- Dental decay and demineralization – decay and erosion of the tooth’s surface as a result of changes in both the quality and quantity of saliva from cancer treatment
- Bleeding due to decreased platelets
Tips for Maintaining Oral Health and Decreasing Side Effects During Treatment
- Gently brush your teeth, gums and the tongue with an extra soft toothbrush after every meal and before bed. You can use toothpastes that are specially formulated for cancer patients such as Biotene Toothpaste – which contains natural salivary enzymes that boost and replenish your oral defense system.
- Take small bites of food, chew slowly and sip liquids with and between meals.
- Avoid sharp, crunchy foods that can scrape or cut your sensitive mouth and gums.
- To relieve dry mouth use a saliva substitute such as a mouth moisturizing product (such as Oral Balance, or MouthKote) or oral rinse. Do not use any products containing alcohol as an ingredient.
- Avoid hard, sugar candy and carbonated soda. You can use sugarless candy to help hydrate your mouth.
- Chew Biotene Dry Mouth Sugar-Free Gum to stimulate salivary flow and protect between brushes.
- Use a cool mist moisturizer at night.
- Keep your lips moist with a gentle lip balm (Lindiskin Lip Balm or 7 Balm, for example)
- You may need supplemental fluoride – as directed and prescribed by your dentist.
“To be forewarned is to be forearmed” as the saying goes: advance warning provides an advantage. Being aware of the potential for oral issues during cancer treatment is the first step, and has been accomplished by reading this blog piece. Being proactive is one of the best solutions. If you are prepared and know what to expect, you can be extra vigilant with oral care. You can see a dentist before you start your cancer treatment protocol. You can choose your foods carefully. Keep your mouth hydrated by drinking and sipping fluids. You can purchase special products which will be helpful to maintaining your oral health prior to commencing your treatment. Maintain a dialog with both your dentist, oncologist, and oncology nurses during treatment. Try to address any oral care issues that arise promptly, so your treatment protocol is not interrupted.
You can purchase a variety of products for oral care during cancer treatment on the website www.LotsToLiveFor.com. There is a special section on the website dedicated to oral care products. Cancer treatment can be physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. Techniques and products to reduce side effects can help make the process more comfortable and hopefully improve your frame of mind, your energy, and hopefully your overall outcome. At Lots To Live For, Inc. we provide products and resources related to cancer side effect solutions which can help you maintain your normal lifestyle during your treatment.
- Comfort During Cancer – Radiation Burn Relief – Lots To Live For Cancer Side Effect Solutions
- Products to Reduce Chemotherapy Side Effects and Improve Comfort and Quality of Life
- Great Chemotherapy Gift Ideas And How To Create Your Own Chemo Goody Bag
- Tips to Control Chemotherapy Nausea and Vomiting (CINV)
- Cancer Pre-Treatment Check List – 6 Tips To Make Your Life Easier Once You Begin Treatments
- 22 Questions to Ask Your Oncology Team About Your Cancer Treatment Protocol
- 7 Tips for Preparing for Chemotherapy and Radiation
- Books to Help Cancer Patients: Empower Yourself by Becoming Your Own Medical Advocate
- Practicing Gratitude Can Improve Your Health, Mood and Spirit
- Comfort Slings Help Relieve Soreness and Abrasion Beneath the Breasts