As Dental Hygienists, we are always thinking about ways you can achieve your happiest and healthiest smiles.
We live by the motto “prevention is key”. If you can prevent a problem or a disease from occurring, why wouldn’t you?
After being diagnosed with any kind of cancer, your oral health immediately sinks down to the bottom of the importance scale – because you now need to focus on your overall health.
The fact that most people find surprising is that oral health is LINKED to your overall health. Your oral health is important to me, and it should be important to you.
If you or a loved one is preparing for cancer treatment, there are many oral health professionals that are here to help before, during, and after your treatment. Many cancer treatments have side effects that affect a patient’s mouth, teeth, and salivary glands. These side effects can make it difficult to eat, talk, chew, or swallow (American Society of Clinical Oncology, 2017).
Radiation therapy of the head and neck, a common treatment for cancer, is often accompanied by many oral side effects. These side effects can include things like dry mouth and thickened saliva, increasing your risk for tooth decay. It can also cause infection, taste disturbance, mouth sores, and jaw stiffness (ASCO, 2017). Unfortunately, these side effects can continue long after the therapy has been completed.
Chemotherapy, typically combined with radiation therapy, may be used instead of surgery as the main treatment of some cancers. The oral side effects of this therapy includes sores and pain in the mouth, peeling or burning of the tongue, taste disturbance and infection (ASCO, 2017).
How can I prevent/relieve these oral side effects?
Before treatment –
Patients who have good dental health before treatment have a lower risk of experiencing these overwhelming side effects. It is important to see a dental professional at least 4 weeks prior to beginning your cancer treatment (ASCO, 2017). The dental professional can treat any current infections you may have and remove any possible irritants such as braces or ill-fitting dentures (ASCO, 2017).
During treatment –
“Gently brush your teeth and gums 2 times a day, and floss regularly” (ASCO, 2017). Depending on where you are at in your treatment, you will be able to brush your teeth using an extra-soft toothbrush soaked in warm water and a fluoride gel or rinse (whichever your health care team suggests). It is important that you avoid alcohol and any extreme textures and flavors in your diet – stick to foods that are soft and mild and monitor your sugar intake (ASCO, 2017). Your health care team can recommend and prescribe certain rinses and medications that can help with painful side effects.
Communicate regularly with your health care team, and alert them if you experience any of the side-effects mentioned above. Most importantly, try to stay positive and take care of yourself!
Written By: Diana-Lee Smallman
American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). 2017. Dental and Oral Health. Retrieved