Cancer Treatment and Oral Complications

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Millions of new cases of cancer are diagnosed each year in Canada and the United States, and there are more cancer patients being treated as outpatients than ever before.

At Simon Pong Dentistry, we often get asked how pre-existing or untreated oral diseases can complicate cancer treatment and about the oral side effects of cancer. It is important for cancer patients and caregivers to understand the ways that cancer can affect your mouth.

Here are some key things to note:

  • Chemotherapy may result in inflammation and ulcerations of the mucous membranes, lips, cheeks, and floor of the mouth which may cause pain, particularly when eating.
  • Oral infections are common (viral, bacterial, fungal).
  • Dry mouth is common due to the thickening, reduction, or absence of saliva flow.
  • Taste alteration may range from unpleasant to tasteless.
  • Chemotherapy may cause neurotoxicity (toxicity in the nervous system) resulting in potentially persistent symptoms including burning pain, and toothache-like pain with no dental cause.
  • Bleeding may increase from decreased levels of platelets and clotting factors.
  • Radiation caries a life-long risk of dental decay which may begin three months following radiation therapy, or sooner.

Tips to reduce sensitivity and discomfort

  • Fluoride treatment is recommended during and after radiation treatment. A high-potency fluoride gel is recommended over fluoride rinses, and it is recommended that fluoride gel is used with mouth trays. Individuals who may be reluctant to using trays can use a brush to apply the gel to the tooth surfaces.
  • Use an extra soft toothbrush and fluoridated toothpaste.
  • Use a new brush for each application to ensure that bacteria is not being re-introduced into the oral cavity.
  • Avoid mouthwashes containing alcohol.
  • Several days before the first radiation treatment, start a 10 minute application of 1.1% neutral pH sodium fluoride gel, or 0.4% stannous fluoride gel. If the patient has crowns, the neutral fluoride is recommended.
  • Avoid spicy foods, acidic food and drinks, alcoholic beverages, candies, regular and diet soda pop, and tobacco.
  • For sore gums, rinse with warm salt water (1/4 teaspoon to 1 cup of warm water). Avoid this suggestion if you are experiencing dry mouth.

Whatever your situation, it is important to maintain your dental appointments and update your health history with your dental team.

For more information please contact Simon Pong Dentistry.

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