Dental care may not be one of the first things we think about when we’re met with a cancer diagnosis. If anything, it may be one of the last things on our mind. Yet thinking about oral health should not be something that falls by the wayside in these situations. Various forms of cancer combat like chemotherapy and radiation treatments tend to have side effects that directly affect the mouth, teeth, and salivary glands. Because of this, it’s imperative that you pay close attention to your oral health if you are dealing with cancer and cancer treatments.
The Link Between Cancer and Oral Health
Cancer treatments can take their toll on parts of the body, and the mouth is no exception. Many hardcore treatments and milder-by-comparison drugs carry side effects that may make it difficult for a cancer patient to execute rudimentary tasks, like eating, talking, chewing, or swallowing. Some of these side effects include mouth sores, dry mouth, infection, and even tooth decay.
The proliferation of these side effects aren’t exactly rare. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), about 40 percent of cancer patients receiving therapy are at risk in developing oral-related complications. This risk shoots up to 80 percent if they are receiving a stem cell transplant. Furthermore, the NIDCR has determined that nearly all patients suffering from head and neck cancers will develop an oral complication.
These numbers may sound intimidating, if not downright frightening. However, these stats don’t necessarily mean that you’re resigned to deal with these issues for the duration of your treatment. Indeed, there are ways that you can mitigate the problems that can arise during this important battle.
Preventative Measures to Take
If you’re planning on starting a cancer treatment, it’s important that you arrange a visit with your dentist at least a month in advance prior to the treatment’s commencement. This will give your mouth sufficient time to heal should your dentist decide you need to undergo any form of oral surgery. During your visit, you’ll also want to ask your dentist to provide your oncologist with a complete profile on your oral health. By doing so, both doctors can work in conjunction to hammer out a plan that can help lower the instance of oral complications.
As you go through the treatment, it’s important that you stick to the basic tenants of gently brushing your teeth gently twice and flossing regularly. During this time, you may want to use a toothbrush with softer bristles to make the process more comfortable. Your dentist may also offer up special brushing and flossing instructions to help lower the risk of bleeding and infection.
Adhering to a diet built around foods that are soft and mild are also important to a maintaining good oral health. You should also look for foods that are packed with vitamin D and calcium to help promote jaw and teeth strength. Avoid the consumption of alcohol and sugary food during this time, as they can cause oral irritation and may accelerate the process of tooth decay.
Treating Dental Side Effects
If you find yourself suffering from oral side effects during cancer treatment, let your doctor or dentist know immediately. There are several methods of relief that can be deployed in this case; the one that is actually used will depend on the symptoms present.
The pain management techniques you could receive include pain medications, antibiotics, medications that promote saliva production, and mouth rinses containing baking soda and salt. In some cases, water-based solutions like drinking water or sucking on ice chips could work as a preventative measure.
Don’t Live with the Discomfort
You don’t have to accept oral discomfort as part of the cancer treatment process. While it may be something that you focus on greatly, it shouldn’t be ignored altogether. Being proactive and working to nip oral side effects in the bud could go a long way into making the journey of cancer treatment a lot more manageable.