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FAQs by Cancer Patients

Prioritizing your oral care before, during, and after cancer treatment can help prevent complications that arise when undergoing chemotherapy or head & neck radiation. See below for some frequently asked questions and answers around oral care and cancer treatment.

Mouth sores can occur because the cells of the mucous lining are not replaced as quickly as needed due to your treatment.
Bleeding gums are often the first, or only, sign of infection. Your gums are particularly susceptible to infection due to your lowered platelet count during chemotherapy. It’s very important to let your oncologist and your dentist know if you are experiencing bleeding gums.
Yes. During chemotherapy treatment, it’s particularly important to prevent all infections.
While these are possible side effects of using chlorhexidine, it is important to reduce your chance of infection during chemo treatment. If you find these side effects are affecting you, talk to your dentist about alternatives. The Natural Dentist Healthy Gums Mouth Rinse has been clinically proven to work just as effectively, but without the side effects.
During your treatment you want to be as gentle with your mouth as possible. This includes using a very soft toothbrush and a very gentle toothpaste. Be particularly aware of harsh ingredients that may be in your toothpaste. Many toothpastes contain Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), which is a powerful detergent that you really never need, but should especially be avoided when undergoing cancer treatments.
No. Chemotherapy also affects your ability to salivate, causing plaque to build up rapidly, thus increasing the chance of developing gum infections and cavities. That’s why it’s important to use a mouth rinse which contains no ingredients that add to mouth dryness, like alcohol, artificial flavors and artificial colors.
Pain and stiffness in the jaw muscles is a possible long-term side effect of radiation therapy. Avoiding dry, course and hard foods will improve chewing difficulties. Drinking water while eating, and adding milk, broth, gravy and sauce to moisten foods will decrease jaw movement. Mashing or blending foods into a casserole or soup can help keep a nutritious diet. Be sure to cut solid foods into small pieces and to chew slowly and thoroughly. Jaw pain and stiffness can be treated with muscle relaxants, physical therapy (such as massage, jaw exercises, or moist heat), or in some cases, surgery.
There are many reasons why it may be difficult for you to swallow food and beverages. Dry mouth, mouth sores, and swelling of the mouth and throat are a few side effects that contribute to this problem. In addition to drinking water frequently and avoiding dry foods, it is important to eat and to drink sitting completely upright. Additionally, a speech therapist can recommend exercises to improve the movement of swallowing.
Staying hydrated and maintaining enough fluids, calories and nutrients is essential to help minimize the side effects of chemo and boost your immune system. You may need to experiment with different foods as your taste may change. It is best to eat small, frequent meals of soft, blended, or pureed foods. Drinking fluids with a straw can help to bypass painful areas in the mouth and help to wash food down. Be sure to avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can dehydrate the body. If you continue to lose weight, it is imperative you talk to a registered dietitian about finding a balanced diet.
Yes. Foods that are salty, spicy, or high in acid, like citrus fruits and juices, can irritate your mouth. It is important to eat foods at a cold or room temperature, hot or warm food can be painful to sensitive tissue. Sugary foods and beverages can cause cavities and should also be avoided.
Oil in the skin is lost during the chemotherapy process causing dryness, cracking, bleeding, and infection. Additionally, chapped lips often occur with dry mouth syndrome. Use lip balm to moisturize lips. Be sure to avoid makeup and solutions that contain alcohol. Read labels and use only safe, nurturing formulas that will enhance the condition of your lips.
When salivary glands are exposed to radiation, saliva production may be compromised. While your salivary glands will work again, they rarely recover completely. Saliva plays a crucial role in oral hygiene because it controls bacteria and fights diseases throughout the mouth. Not only is dry mouth uncomfortable, but lack of saliva can lead to tooth decay and oral diseases. It is crucial to increase fluids, drinking at least 8-12 glasses of water a day. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can dehydrate the body. If you are suffering with mouth sores, use a straw to drink liquids, bypassing sensitive tissue. Sugar-free gum and candy can also be used to temporarily stimulate saliva. It is important to use a mouth rinse that is free of alcohol, a drying agent that reduces saliva production. Using an alcohol-free mouth rinse can stimulate saliva and coat the mouth, helping to restore moisture balance.

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