What You Need to Understand About Oral Care Throughout Cancer Treatment

The month of April is Cancer Awareness Month, which is why this is the perfect time to educate readers about the negative effects of cancer on teeth, gums, and other areas related to dental health.  If there are already existing dental problems such as tooth abscess, cavities or gum disease, then these infections may become worse during cancer treatment. Patients who are undergoing chemotherapy and radiation often have mouth sores and other mouth irritations. Gums have a greater probability of bleeding and can tend to be swollen and painful. There are actually ways to prevent these and minimize them while receiving cancer treatment.

Food and Drinks
It is best to avoid spicy food, citrus juices, and tomato which can irritate the mouth sores.  Dry mouth is a common side effect of most cancer treatments, which is why you need to avoid caffeinated and alcohol beverages that promote mouth dryness. Chewing a sugar-free gum stimulates saliva flow which is helpful to alleviate dry mouth.

Vomiting is also one of the common side effects of cancer treatment. You can rinse your mouth with a baking soda mouthwash by mixing 1 cup water and ¼ tablespoon baking soda. Swish the solution in your mouth for 30 seconds before spitting out. This helps neutralize any stomach acids left in the mouth after vomiting, which can cause enamel erosion. But if you are giving this to a child who doesn’t know how to swish and spit, then simply use a gauze or toothbrush to apply the solution on their teeth, gums and tongue.

Dental care for children undergoing chemotherapy and radiation follows the same strict guidelines as with adults.  For children with mouth sores, you can offer them non-irritating and soothing food and beverages such as pureed foods, milkshakes, ice cream, puddings, frozen yogurt or scrambled eggs.

There are certain medications that can help prevent mouth sores and lessen discomfort. Over-the-counter pain medications such as Tylenol works but if you want stronger medications then ask your doctor if they can prescribe you one.

It is important to avoid aspirins or non-steroidal drugs or NSAIDs like Ibuprofen during chemo treatments since these can cause bleeding. There are also saliva substitutions available to help deal with dry mouth.

Dental Professional Assistance
In such cases dental concerns, the oncologist and dentist can collaborate to help make you feel as comfortable as possible. Regular dental check-ups can help monitor your oral status and make certain changes to prevent or alleviate dental issues and again make sure you are comfortable.

Good Dental Health Habits
Unless contraindicated, it is best to continue to gently brush your teeth using a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste twice a day and gently floss between your teeth once a day. But if the gums are bleeding or sore, then it is suggested to avoid flossing those areas but continue to floss unaffected teeth.

Proper Hydration
Drinking at least 8 glasses of water can be helpful in preventing numerous dental side effects of cancer treatment such as dry mouth. A cool mist humidifier can bring much-needed moisture to the room and also use lip balm can prevent the lips from cracking.

During this Cancer Awareness month, you can take become proactive in ensuring your own comfort and health by following these tips and seeking ongoing care from your dental and health care professionals. You can have a peace of mind in knowing that you will be as comfortable as possible during your cancer treatment using these tips and at the same time make sure that you are oral health is well taken care of.

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