How Do Cancer Treatments Affect Oral Health?

How Do Cancer Treatments Affect Oral Health?

Cancer is one of the leading causes of deaths all over the world, but the rate of survival has increased steadily over the years. Chemotherapy, radiation, and other drugs can improve cancer significantly. These treatments allow people to enjoy many more years than they might have, giving them hope for a normal life expectancy. However, these forms of extensive medical treatments usually result in various side effects, and the mouth is one of the parts of the body especially prone to side effects.

Effects of Chemotherapy and Radiation on the Mouth

If you are a cancer patient who is or will be undergoing chemotherapy and/or radiation in the near future, here are some of the negative effects of treatment you can expect.

  1. Mucositis (mouth sores). These are small painful sores can appear under the lips, on the inner cheeks and on the tongue.
  2. Infections. The immune responses of the body slow down because of the treatment, and this makes the body more receptible to infection. The bacteria in and around the mouth can especially wreak havoc on all parts of the oral cavity.
  3. Xerostomia (dry mouth). Many drugs and treatments cause dry mouth. Some impair the salivary glands, some cause dehydration and some can affect the overall functionality of the oral cavity. This condition can lead to more serious issues if left untreated.
  4. Trismus (lockjaw). Chemotherapy can make movement painful, even jaw movement. Some patients feel such severe pain they can’t even open their mouths to eat or speak.
  5. Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). This is associated with dry mouth, jaw pain and muscle pain that afflicts the tongue and throat.
  6. Dysgeusia (changes in taste). This is common for individuals who suffer from illness, and various treatment methods aggravate the abnormal taste of food from tasteless to an unpleasant taste in the mouth that can affect dietary intake.
  7. Untraceable pain in the mouth. Several patients report pain in the tongue and gums, which doctors cannot trace to any infection or physical problem. This is usually nerve-related because the body is undergoing cell regeneration, and this process can produce pain in all parts of the body.
  8. Cavities and tooth decay. The immune responses of the body weaken during treatment, making the patient more prone to getting tooth decay. Bacteria can grow and infect the mouth and teeth because of low saliva levels and poor immune system.
  9. Periodontal disease. Gum disease develops faster in people undergoing cancer treatment because of immune weakness.

How to Prevent Oral Problems During Cancer Treatment

You can still maintain your oral health even while you’re under cancer treatment by following these steps.

  1. If possible, see your dentist a month before cancer treatment. If you haven’t scheduled  chemotherapy yet, make an appointment with your dentist first so you can get pre-treatment dental care.
  2. Promote contact between your oncologist and dentist. Coordination between your two healthcare providers will improve your treatment process and prevent unnecessary complications associated with dental problems. Acquiring periodontal disease while suffering from cancer can lead to other health issues and make treatment more difficult.
  3. Get regular dental checkups. Your dentist needs to see your dental condition to ensure that no infection is growing deep within your gums. Detecting infection or decay early will also make treatment easier because you can’t undergo any surgical procedure when you’re going through chemo or radiation.
  4. Practice proper oral hygiene. Brush your teeth gently twice a day. Use a fluoridated toothpaste to strengthen the teeth. Be careful when flossing because bleeding gums can result to infection in immunocompromised individuals.
  5. Use disinfectant mouthwash without alcohol. Your dentist can give a prescription for this kind of mouthwash. This is an effective way of cleaning your mouth optimally without causing pain or cuts in the gums.
  6. If your mouth is painful, stay on a soft diet. Dryness and lockjaw can make swallowing difficult, which is why some patients don’t have any appetite. However, during treatment, it’s very important for a patient to receive proper nutrition. The best way to eat a balanced diet is by pureeing foods and softening them with sauces, broth and soup.
  7. Drink liquids while eating food. This will help relieve dry mouth and make eating easier.
  8. Avoid tobacco, alcohol and junk foods. Not only do these harm oral health, they also harm overall health and do not contribute any good to your treatment process.
  9. Don’t use toothpicks or eat foods that can possibly hurt your mouth. Hard foods, chips, and nuts can be painful when lodged in the teeth and gums. Getting a cut can make you very susceptible to infections.

Now you are more aware of the problems cancer treatment can bring to your dental health, make sure you get proper care from your dental practitioner. And don’t forget to visit Bronitsky Family Dentistry every six months to keep your teeth and gums healthy, especially while you are still free from systemic illness.

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