A diagnosis of cancer is devastating. Regardless of the form cancer takes or the treatment you face, your entire body will be affected, including your teeth, gums, and other oral tissues. Because there is a high turn-over rate of cells in your mouth, most cancer treatments will result in oral side effects.
Side effects one may anticipate include dry mouth, bad or metallic taste, pain, tooth decay, sores, and gum disease (loss of jaw bone supporting teeth). There are steps you can take to lessen the impact of these side effects on your quality of life as you go through cancer treatment.
Ask you treating physician to consult with your dentist. If possible, schedule a comprehensive dental exam and professional cleaning BEFORE you start cancer treatment. This will help both your dentist and physician establish your starting base-line of dental health. Your dentist will be able to monitor your oral health and watch for negative changes that may occur, and, most importantly, render necessary therapeutic treatment of those changes. You may want to consider having any elective dental treatment done before you begin chemotherapy or radiation. Have any active decay restored and any hopeless teeth extracted. If you have dentures or partials that do not fit well, have them relined or adjusted before you start cancer treatment. Good nutrition is vital during cancer treatment, you MUST be able to eat a healthy diet.
It is far too common that we see patients neglect their oral hygiene during cancer treatment because frequently people will feel too tired to brush and floss. Plaque control is particularly important during cancer treatment because plaque is teeming with bacteria that will take advantage of your compromised immune system. There will probably be days you feel you have to push yourself to even chase a toothbrush around your teeth. The effort you put in to keep your mouth free of plaque and food debris will pay off, believe me!
I cannot stress enough: BRUSH AND FLOSS AT LEAST TWICE A DAY! Use a soft tooth brush with gentle strokes AT THE GUM LINE.
Keep your mouth moist with frequent drinks of water. Avoid sugary beverages and hard candies! You will be at increased risk for tooth decay. Instead, look for products that contain xylitol. Xylitol is a sweetener that does not contain glucose (the sugar that feeds plaque bacteria).
Avoid rinses that contain alcohol. Alcohol will dry mouth tissues that are already dry from cancer treatment and medications. Instead, look for a rinse that contains fluoride without an alcohol base.
If you experience any of the following symptoms during cancer treatment call your dentist to schedule an examination as soon as possible: pain and swelling of the gums, loose teeth, bleeding gums, numbness or heavy feeling in the jaw. These may be indications of severe adverse effects of cancer treatment, especially with radiation therapy of the head, neck, or chest or chemotherapy.
Good nutrition is vital during cancer treatment. Your mouth should not be neglected. If you are unable to eat a healthy diet because of soreness in your mouth, you will compromise your overall prognosis. Therefore, be sure to NOT neglect your oral health.