Your oral care routine may not seem to be a priority if you are battling cancer, but preventing and controlling oral complications during treatment for cancer can help ease the journey.
About a third of people undergoing cancer treatment develop oral problems, including dry mouth (xerostomia), tooth decay, infections and mouth ulcers. Dirna Grobbelaar, our oral hygiene advisor, shares how to prevent and manage these common concerns.
A healthy mouth is less likely to develop oral complications. Ideally have a dental check-up and a professional clean before starting treatment, allowing two weeks or more between treatment and any dental surgery.
Dry mouth, or xerostomia, is a common side effect of radiation and many chemotherapy drugs and other medication. Saliva is the body’s natural way of keeping the mouth clean. Dry mouth encourages plaque and bacteria build up, increasing the likelihood of gum disease, decay and bad breath. Drinking water will give temporary relief and chewing gum can stimulate saliva flow. There are also products especially developed to help produce saliva, such as Sunstar GUM Hydral Moisturising Gel and Moisturising Spray that lubricate, soothe, promote soft tissue repair and create a protective coating in the mouth.
Meticulous oral care is crucial. Brush correctly at least twice a day, using a soft brush that will be gentler on sensitive gums and cleans just as effectively. Dipping the brush in warm water will further soften the bristles. You may feel extremely tired – a quality electric toothbrush, like the Philips Sonicare powerbrush will give a ‘supreme clean’ with minimum effort.
Strong tasting toothpaste may irritate the gums. Use a mild toothpaste or Olgani Naturals. If you experience bleeding gums or infection, consider a treatment paste like Sunstar GUM alcohol-free antibacterial mouthwash Gel.
Clean between the teeth daily. If you find floss too firm, try an interdental brush or gentle Sunstar GUM Soft-Picks. After eating, or for extra freshness, rinse with an alcohol-free mouthwash like Dentyl Dual Action.
If you experience nausea and vomiting, don’t brush teeth immediately afterwards; stomach acid demineralises enamel and weakens teeth. Initially just rinse your mouth with water or an alcohol-free mouthwash, then wait an hour or so before brushing.
Mouth ulcers (canker sores) expose sensitive nerve endings that can make drinking, eating, talking and cleaning your mouth painful. Don’t neglect your oral hygiene as it can promote quicker healing. Look for products like Aloclair that creates a protective film over the ulcer, for immediate relief.
Should you experience any dental or oral side effects during treatment, chat to a member of your healthcare team – your doctor, nurse or dental professional. Managing symptoms will help alleviate any pain and discomfort – a critical part of your care and recovery.
For further expert advice on looking after your health during cancer treatment, download our ‘Love Your Life, Love Your Oral Care’ booklet or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org to request your free copy. Wishing you good health!