How To Take Care Of Your Oral Health During Cancer Treatment

11th September 2019, Jenni Allan, Freelance Author

Over one-third of all cancer patients develop mouth complications. Many cancer treatments can affect a patient’s mouth health, making it difficult to eat, talk, and even swallow. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid these side effects or manage them if they do occur.

What To Expect

Some common oral side effects during cancer treatment include dry mouth, thickened saliva, difficulty swallowing, and changes in taste. And because cancer treatments weaken the immune system, patients become more susceptible to tooth decay and infection. While most of these symptoms occur during treatment, some happen after treatment ends.

Before starting cancer treatment, it’s a good idea to visit the dentist so you can make your mouth as healthy as possible. By treating issues early, you can reduce or avoid some of these side effects. Ask your dentist what treatments you should get, such as getting fillings, fluoride treatments to prevent cavities, removing infected teeth, and so forth. If you have braces, ask your dentist if you can have them removed, or you could get fitted for a mouthguard that can help protect your tongue and gums from irritation.

If you’ve already started treatment and you haven’t seen a dentist, make an appointment as soon as you can. Ask your dentist to speak to your oncologist about your oral health, so that they can have both have a better idea of how they can treat you effectively. As much as possible, leave at least two weeks for recovery between any dental surgery and cancer treatment.

Preventing Oral Side Effects

To prevent infection, make sure to keep your mouth clean by flossing carefully every day and brushing with a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste after each meal. Because toothbrushes can harbor bacteria, make sure to change them every three to four months — or even more if needed. You could also use an alcohol-free mouthwash for more protection.

During cancer treatment, your sense of taste could change, so avoid extreme flavors and textures. Opt for mild foods that are easy to chew and swallow, as your mouth can get easily irritated. For example, crunchy foods like potato chips could scrape your mouth, and acidic foods like citrus fruits can irritate your mouth.

Because the bacteria in the mouth thrive on sugar, cut down on sugary foods as well. The same thing goes for all tobacco products and alcoholic drinks. Eat foods that are rich in vitamin D and calcium, but consult with your doctor before taking any supplements.

How To Manage Oral Side Effects

If you notice any side effects during treatment, such as mouth sores or bleeding when you floss, let your doctor know as soon as possible. Treating these side effects promptly can make cancer treatments work more efficiently and prevent complications. You could get medications for pain and infections, and even dry mouth. But you could also manage dry mouth by drinking lots of water to keep your mouth moist. You can also suck ice chips or sugar-free hard candy, or chew on sugar-free gum during treatment. 

Side effects vary from one person to the other. Some of your side effects may just be mildly irritating, while others could be more serious. Though dental care may not be at the forefront of every cancer patient’s mind, taking care of oral health throughout the entire duration of cancer therapy can reduce complications. Work together with your health team to better understand how to make your cancer treatments as pleasant and effective as possible.