A diagnosis of cancer can be devastating. While you are worried about your health and finances, you don’t always consider the other parts of your body that may be affected by cancer and its treatments. Your oral health is very important to the health of your body and treatments like chemo and radiation can be detrimental to your mouth’s well-being.
Oral health issues caused by cancer
A study by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research found that 1/3 rd of cancer patients experience complications related to their oral health. These include:
• Mouth sores
• Infection of the mouth, teeth and gums
• Dry mouth – which can lead to a whole host of issues
• Sensitive gums
• Jaw pain
• Nerve issues
When you have cancer, and get treatment for it, your immune system is weakened. If you already have underlying mouth issues like gingivitis or tooth decay, these may be worsened during your battle with cancer. If you get an infection during cancer treatment, it can be very difficult for your body to fight it. This may mean that your treatment could be delayed or cancelled until the infection itself is treated. Taking care of your teeth and gums during treatment is very important. Many medications, including the ones given for nausea during treatment can cause dry mouth. Dry mouth increases your risk of tooth decay and infection and can be very uncomfortable.
What to do before treatment
Before you begin treatment, see your dentist and get all of the work done you may have been putting off, whether that’s a cleaning, a filling or a root canal. Clearing up issues before your immune system gets weaker is a good line of defence. As most will advise you, quit smoking, increase your water intake and eat as healthy as you can.
What to do during treatment
During treatment, care for your teeth as well as you can by brushing and flossing regularly. You don’t want to have any work done if you can avoid it. If you are experiencing mouth sores, there are topical treatments that you can get over the counter to relieve pain. There are prescription mouthwashes that you can use to help increase saliva production and prevent dry mouth. Doing a mouth rinse with salt and baking soda in water can be very helpful as well. If jaw pain is keeping you up at night, try to exercise your jaw and take a pain reliever (talk to your doctor first).
What to do after treatment
After treatment, see your dentist for a cleaning and checkup and to ensure the treatments haven’t caused any residual issues. Continue to care for your teeth as you would normally. Oral health care during cancer isn’t something that should be overlooked. Taking care of your whole
body is important and will ensure you feel better quicker.