Dental care for cancer patients

Written by Dr. Apurva Chavan

October 31, 2020

Oral cancer requires surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of all 3 to treat it. Surgery removes the local malignancy, chemotherapy uses medicines, and radiation therapy uses high-level radiations to destroy cancer cells.

All 3 of these methods, cause a lot of side effects like dry mouth, ulcers, difficulty in swallowing, sensitivity to spicy or sour foods, increased risk of tooth decay, etc. Luckily proper care and precautions can help manage all of these symptoms.

Care before treatment

  • Visit a dentist if you see any signs or symptoms of oral cancer. Your dentist will advise you to go for a full mouth cleaning to reduce the bacterial load in your mouth to prevent further susceptible infections.
  • Treat the decayed or broken teeth and any other oral infections.
  • Remove braces or any permanent retainers to avoid irritation.
  • Get all your lose/ill-fitting prosthesis crowns etc. fitted properly.
  • Tooth removal if required should be done at least 2-3 weeks before radiation therapy and 7-10 days before chemotherapy.
  • Fluoride application treatments are done to reduce teeth demineralization after radiation therapies. Remember that the better prepared you are before the treatment, the lesser the side-effects you face. So get all your dental work in order 2-3 weeks before you start your treatment.

During the treatment

  • Mouth rinse with fluorides (0.05%) like phos flor, or alcohol-free mouthwashes like hexidine will soothe sore mouth and prevent cavities.
  • Use an ultra-soft brush to clean your teeth and avoid bleeding gums e.g. Oral-B ultra-thin, Colgate sensitive.
  • Sip water throughout the day to alleviate a dry mouth. Suck on ice chips to alleviate pain and soothe your mucosa.
  • Avoid things that can dry out your mouth, such as soda, citric fruit juice, alcohol. avoid having spicy food as they too could cause irritations and burning sensations.
  • Having sugar-free chewing gum with xylitol will increase salivary flow and helps to reduce dry mouth. Gengigel or Gelclair medicament gels create a layer around your mucosa and protect it from drying out.
  • For jaw pain, ask your doctor for a suitable painkiller. Remember to take your medicines and multivitamins as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Fungal infections are common during the treatment, but self- medication is not advised. Visit your dentist at the earliest to get an appropriate prescription. After the treatment
  • Cancer treatment will leave your mouth highly susceptible to dental problems. That is why regular dental visits are a must to catch and treat dental problems early.
  • Calcium repair mousse-like GC mousse slowly re-mineralize the enamel making the teeth strong and less prone to decay.
  • Maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet. Eat a lot of foods rich in Vitamin D like fish to maintain bone health.
  • Keep gums healthy by using good flossing devices like interdental brushes or Waterpik (water jet floss)
  • Brush twice a day with a good fluoridated toothpaste.

 

Remember that prevention is better than cure, so avoid habits like smoking, chewing tobacco, and alcohol to avoid cancer. Brush, floss, and clean your tongue regularly to maintain a good oral hygiene routine

 

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