Cancer and Dental Health
More than one-third of all cancer patients develop complications that affect the mouth, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. These mild to severe side effects can include mouth sores, infection, dry mouth, sensitive gums and jaw pain.
Your mouth health is an important part of your overall health, so make your dentist part of your cancer care team.
How Cancer Affects Your Mouth
Cancer and its treatments, like chemotherapy, can weaken your immune system. If your mouth is not as healthy as possible prior to your cancer treatment, you may be more susceptible to infection. If the infection is serious enough, it can delay your cancer treatment.
In addition, radiation therapy, especially in the area of the head and neck, can damage salivary glands which can cause thick, sticky saliva and extreme dry mouth. A dry mouth can increase your chances of tooth decay and infection.
Your 3-Step Cancer Action Plan
Maintaining your mouth at its best health before, during and after cancer treatment could help lessen some side effects and allow you to focus on your overall healing. Here’s what to do during each phase of your treatment:
If your mouth is not as healthy as possible prior to your cancer treatment, you may be more susceptible to infection. If the infection is serious enough, it can delay treatment.
Here are some dental health tips to consider before undergoing cancer treatment:
Visit Your Dentist
Your dentist can evaluate your dental health and discuss which treatment options you should consider prior to starting cancer treatment. By treating areas of concern you may reduce possible dental side effects associated with chemotherapy and radiation. Some treatment options may include fluoride treatments to prevent cavities, filling existing cavities, treating gum disease,removing infected teeth or restoring crowns or bridge work to ensure you will be able to chew your food.
Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. You can soak your extra-soft toothbrush in warm water to make it softer, and don’t forget to brush your tongue!
Floss once a day. This helps remove plaque between teeth. If your gums are sore or bleeding, be gentle and avoid those areas, but floss in between the rest of your teeth.
Don’t Use Tobacco
Tobacco products are harsh on your body – especially your mouth health.Stopping the use of tobacco may help your body heal faster.
Eat Nutritious Foods
Eating healthy foods rich with vitamins and nutrients can help boost your immune system. Your individual nutrition and calorie needs depend on your age, gender, level of physical activity and other health factors. According to MyPlate, a website from the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a healthy diet should include: Fruits and vegetables, grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy, and protein such as lean beef, skinless poultry and fish. Vary your protein choices to also include eggs, beans, peas and legumes. Eat at least eight ounces of seafood a week.
Rinse Your Mouth Often
This will help keep food and debris off of your teeth and gums. Avoid rinses that have alcohol in them. Rinsing often, along with regular brushing and flossing, may help to reduce the chance of dental decay and infection. Rinsing is also helpful after vomiting to keep the acids from damaging the enamel on your teeth. You may also want to reduce eating citrus fruit or other high acid foods.
Rinsing solution ideas from the National Institutes of Health:
- 1 teaspoon of salt in 4 cups of water
- 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 1 cup (8 ounces of water)
- One half teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons baking soda in 4 cups of water
During the course of your cancer treatment you may experience mild to severe side effects. Be sure to consult with your cancer care team prior to dental checkups, especially if you have a port under your skin for receiving medication or feeding. This is important because patients with a port may also take anti-blood clotting medications, which can increase bleeding during dental and medical procedures and the risk of infection.
After cancer treatment, you may find yourself experiencing some dental issues or simply needing a regular checkup. As you’re working toward your best health, don’t forget to take care of your mouth. After all, it is the gateway to the rest of your body. Here are some things to consider after completing treatment.
Routine check-ups and cleanings are essential, so visit your dentist on a regular basis. Due to the effects of cancer treatment, you may have moderate to severe tooth decay as a result of dry mouth since saliva (spit) is essential in rinsing the mouth of food particles and plaque. Treatment may include filling cavities, root canals, or crown and bridge work.
Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. Don’t forget to brush your tongue.
Cleaning between your teeth once a day with floss or another product made to clean between your teeth will help remove plaque from your teeth and gums.
Rinse Your Mouth Often
This will help keep food and debris off of your teeth and gums. Avoid rinses that have alcohol in them. Rinsing often, along with regular brushing and flossing, may help to reduce the chance of dental decay and infection.
Don’t use tobacco products. Tobacco is harsh on your body – especially your mouth health.
Eat Nutritious Foods
Eating healthy foods rich with vitamins and nutrients can help boost your immune system. Your individual nutrition and calorie needs depend on your age, gender, level of physical activity and other health factors, but according toMyPlate, a website from the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, an agency of U.S. Department of Agriculture, a balanced and healthy diet should include:
- Fruits and vegetables. Combined, these should cover half your plate at meals.
- Grains. At least half of the grains you eat should be whole grains, such as oatmeal, whole wheat bread and brown rice.
- Dairy. Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy foods most often.
- Protein. Make lean protein choices, such as lean beef, skinless poultry and fish. Vary your protein choices to also include eggs, beans, peas and legumes. Eat at least eight ounces of seafood a week.
If you have any questions regarding your Dental Health and a Cancer Diagnosis, please call us, we will be happy to help.