Dental care is an often overlooked side of care during a cancer patient’s journey.
As you know, going through cancer is extremely demanding on your body and its immune system, so this post will shed some light on how to take care of your shiny whites.
First things first:
Make sure your dentists and hygienists are knowledgeable and experienced and, if this is not the case, you can get a referral into a hospital who have a special care dentistry department which is particularly helpful if the patient needs a lot of work done prior to chemo.
So what happens to your mouth during treatment ?
To start with, it is a good idea to see your dentist and have a general check up of your mouth. They will be looking for anything that is infected or could become infected during chemotherapy. Try to do this at least two weeks before chemo so if there is anything that needs doing, it gives your mouth time to recover.
It’s important to mention that while seeing your dentist before your treatment is highly important, unfortunately not all side effects will be avoided but the fewer side effects you have the better.
During your treatment the chemotherapy which kills cancer cells can also harm good cells, some being in your mouth. It can stop your mouth producing saliva (spit) so your mouth can become very sore and create ulcers. At this point it may be even hard for you to swallow, talk (that was very hard for me), brush your teeth and even eat (tube feeding might happen then but mainly during high dose or stem cell transplants).
Below is a list of things you can do to encourage saliva (spit)
- drinking lots of water ( about 3 litres a day)
- suck ice cubes
- suck sugar free sweets or chew sugar-free gum
- there are also saliva substitutes available to help moisten your mouth
Some more useful tips:
- If you are able to brush your teeth during treatment, use an extra soft toothbrush and it may also help to use warm water.
- Replace the brush frequently to prevent infections
- It’s important to brush after each meal and before bedtime.
- Use a fluoride toothpaste
- Try to floss gently once a day
- To prevent lips cracking use Vaseline
Things to avoid during this time are neat spirits, tobacco, hot spices, garlic, onion, vinegar and salty food as they may irritate your mouth and also try to avoid acidic drinks such as juices and fizzy drinks.
With regards to mouthwashes first speak to your doctors to see what they recommend.
Mouthwashes containing chlorhexidine (Corsodyl®, Chlorohex® or Eludril®) can help to prevent infection. Benzydamine mouthwash (Difflam®) can be helpful as a local anaesthetic and can ease the discomfort caused by an inflamed mouth lining.
As you may know being sick may be a side effect of your treatment. It is very important to rinse your mouth out straight away as the sick’s acidity can damage your mouth.
You should visit your dentist and hygienist regularly after your treatment, three monthly check ups are recommended.