As per the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, more than one-third of all cancer patients develop complications that affect the mouth. The side effects can be from mild to severe and can include mouth sores, dry mouth, infection, sensitive gums, and jaw pain. If the mouth is not healthy before the cancer treatment, you may be more susceptible to infection that can even delay the cancer treatment.
Radiation therapy to the head and neck as a part of cancer treatment can affect the cells in your mouth and digestive tract, resulting in a condition called mucositis. Mucositis can cause swelling, redness, sores, and tenderness on the lining of the mouth, tongue, and lips. Patients are also likely to experience some mouth and throat discomfort that can cause difficulty to eat or swallow. These symptoms may begin 3 to 10 days after treatment starts. How fast the symptoms go away depends on the patient's immune system and the treatment they are receiving.
Side effects caused by cancer or its treatment on the mouth may include:
In order to lessen the side effects of the cancer treatment, it is important to maintain the mouth at its best health before, during, and after the treatment. Read our blog to know more about what all things to be taken care of during each phase of the treatment.
Visit a dentist at least four weeks before starting cancer treatment so that any possible infections can be treated. During the visits to the dentist, they will examine the patient's teeth and treat decayed, or infected teeth and any other dental infection, make sure that the dentures fit well, and will remove the patient's braces if any so they do not irritate their cheeks or tongue. The dentist can evaluate the patient's dental health and discuss the best treatment options to keep their mouth healthy as possible before starting cancer treatment. Treating the areas of concern can help to reduce possible dental side effects associated with chemotherapy and radiation. Few treatment options include filling existing cavities, fluoride treatments to prevent cavities, treating gum disease, removing infected teeth, or restoring crowns or bridgework.
If the patient consults a dentist during cancer treatment, they should talk with their oncologist to make sure that any dental treatment they receive is safe for them.
Before, during, and after the cancer treatment, the following tips may help improve the patient's oral health and prevent side effects:
Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush.
Floss once a day to remove plaque between teeth. Be gentle while you floss and avoid the areas of gums that are sore or bleeding.
Usage of tobacco can affect mouth health. Stopping the use of tobacco will help your body heal faster.
Eating nutritious foods rich in vitamins and nutrients can help boost the immune system. Including fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, protein such as lean beef, skinless poultry, and fish in the diet can help the patient's immune system and overall health.
Rinsing your mouth often will keep food and debris off of your teeth and gums and reduce the chance of dental decay and infection. If the patient is prone to vomiting, rinsing helps to keep the acids from damaging the enamel on your teeth.
Eat foods that are soft and mild. Extremely hot, cold, acidic, spicy, or crunchy foods may irritate the patient's mouth.
Getting enough vitamin D and calcium helps the jaw and teeth stay strong and healthy. Include calcium and vitamin D-rich food in the diet.
During the course of the treatment, the patient is likely to experience some mild to severe side effects that affect the mouth. However, consult with the cancer care team prior to dental checkups as certain cancer medications can increase bleeding during dental and medical procedures and the risk of infection.
If the patient has any dental or oral side effects during treatment, inform the health care team right away. Relieving side effects is an integral part of cancer care and is called palliative care or supportive care.
The common treatments for dental and oral side effects are as follows:
Reach out to us on-call or by scheduling an online appointment, and we can discuss more on your oral care.
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