Oral Care Tips for Cancer Patients

Oral care during cancer care is extremely important to maintaining overall health and a strong immune system. According to the National Institutes of Health, one third of cancer patients suffer with oral complications when undergoing treatment, even if no pre-treatment dental issues are present. Mild oral health issues during cancer treatment may not have a major impact on the patient’s life, but serious cases can make simple tasks such as eating, talking and swallowing troublesome. From an increase in saliva to severe bad breath, there are various signs that your cancer or treatment is leading to mouth problems. The cancer care specialists and dental team at Natural Horizons can help you take steps towards prevention and treatment of oral health complications.

Causes of Oral Health Complications During Cancer Care

Head and neck radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and some biological therapies are all linked to oral health issues. Cancer therapy is generally vital for survival, but while stunting the growth of cancer cells, healthy cells may get damaged, too. Here's an overview of prevailing problems/causes:

  • Dry Mouth - Often linked to dehydration, allergies and anxiety, dry mouth (otherwise known as xerostomia) can be extremely uncomfortable. It may be caused by drug side effects and radiotherapy.
  • Sore Mouth and Ulcers - When the moist tissues inside the mouth become inflamed, you may be left with painful ulcers. Cancer treatments commonly associated with sore mouth or ulcers include vincristrine, epirubicin, doxorubicin, fluorouracil, sunitinib and erlotinib, among others.
  • Taste Changes - Cisplatin, methotrexate and vincristine are three of many cancer drug treatments that can create a metallic, salty or bitter taste in the mouth.
  • Mouth Infection - Cancer patients going through chemotherapy or biological therapies are susceptible to infections, which if not treated with anti-fungal drugs can turn into painful thrush.

Coping with Cancer-Related Mouth Problems

Pre-treatment oral care significantly slashes the risks of future oral complications, such as stiff jaw. It will allow for prompt identification/treatment, reduced pain and better quality of life. Perhaps the biggest benefit is the success rate of patients completing the planned cancer treatment. Ideally, you should put the following mouth care tips into action to minimize/prevent changes:

  • Visit the Dentist - Prior to receiving cancer care, get dental cleaning, a full mouth examination and impressions for fluoride trays at a local dentist.
  • Personal Dental Hygiene - Brush three times a day, floss daily, use fluoride gel, and eat a low-sugar balanced diet.
  • Banish Bad Habits - Cut down (or quit) smoking tobacco, steer clear of spicy food, drink eight glasses of water daily, and avoid caffeinated beverages.

Pain Medication - Reduce discomfort by using strong painkillers such as Tylenol. Refrain from using non-steroidal medication products, as these can cause gum bleeding.

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