Oral Care for Cancer Patients

Patients who undergo cancer treatment are sometimes unaware that it can affect the teeth, gums, salivary glands and other oral tissues. In some cases, patients delay or stop their cancer treatment because they experience painful side effects in their mouths.

To help manage these oral side effects, your dentist and oncologist can work together — before and during cancer treatment — to make recovery as comfortable as possible.

When possible, schedule a thorough dental checkup at least two weeks before treatment begins. At this visit, you can update your medical history record and provide the telephone number for the physician who is handling the cancer therapy.

During cancer treatment, you should continue to gently brush teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste unless the dentist recommends otherwise. Patients who receive cancer treatment of the head and neck sometimes discover that they cannot tolerate the flavor of their regular toothpaste. If this happens to you, you can try another flavor that will not irritate mouth tissues.

Continue to gently floss once a day. If gums are sore or bleeding in places, you should avoid those areas but continue to floss other teeth until the condition improves. Your dentist may recommend a mouthrinse in addition to daily brushing. You also may be advised to use fluoride gel at home to help reduce the likelihood of tooth decay.

Rinse your mouth several times a day with a solution of baking soda and salt, followed by a plain water rinse. Use one-quarter teaspoon of baking soda and one-eighth teaspoon of salt in one cup of warm water. This is particularly helpful if you experience vomiting after cancer treatment.

If xerostomia, or dry mouth, develops, your dentist may recommend a saliva replacement, available at pharmacies. Taking frequent sips of water, sucking on ice chips or sugar-free candy,

© 2003 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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