If you are undergoing treatment for cancer, you might not be thinking about oral health, but you should know that cancer treatments can affect all parts of the body, including the mouth.
An unhealthy mouth can increase the risk of developing side effects to cancer therapies and can even interfere with treatment.
If you are currently being treated for cancer, it’s important to let your dentist know what types of cancer treatment you are undergoing since it can weaken the immune system and make you more likely to develop infections. If possible, consult your dentist before beginning any kind of treatment so that he or she can perform a dental examination and complete any necessary treatment for gum disease, tooth decay or other infections in your mouth.
During cancer treatment, painful sores and/or dry mouth (especially for people under treatment for head or neck cancer) are possible side effects. In addition to causing discomfort, this can increase the risk of tooth decay since saliva washes away food particles from the teeth and helps reduce that risk. Your dentist may give you an artificial saliva to help make you more comfortable and protect your teeth.
Your dentist may also give you special trays that fit in your mouth. The trays are used to apply a fluoride gel regularly to your teeth during cancer treatment, which helps strengthen and protect your teeth.
Some steps to take to maintain a healthy mouth include:
- brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste;
- cleaning between your teeth every day with dental floss;
- stopping use of tobacco products;
- rinsing your mouth after vomiting with one-fourth teaspoon of baking soda in 1 cup of warm water;
- moistening a dry mouth by drinking water; sucking on ice; chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free candies; avoiding mouthwashes that contain alcohol; and asking your dentist about artificial saliva;
- looking for dental products that display the American Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance, which tells you that the product has met the ADA’s standards for safety and effectiveness—and that it does what the package says it does.
- It’s important to talk with your dentist about any problems you are having with your mouth. Because dentists specialize in caring for the teeth and gums, they can help limit the oral problems that may arise during cancer treatment.