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Caring for Your Teeth When Fighting Cancer

March 12, 2020 by christopher pupillo

A positive cancer diagnosis is something no one ever wants to receive. Unfortunately, about 1.8 million Americans receive this diagnosis each year. Regardless of what kind of cancer someone has, the different treatment methods can affect your mouth and teeth. Here are issues to be aware of and tips on how you can best deal with them as well as protect your dental health.

How Do Cancer Treatments Affect Your Mouth and Teeth?

Cancer can affect your mouth and teeth in several different ways, and since it’s important you maintain your ability to stay well-nourished to help your body fight disease, you should be aware of potential problems you may experience.

Dry Mouth

Chemotherapy and radiation can damage your salivary glands. Chemotherapy may also thicken your saliva. Some medications also cause dry mouth as a side effect. A dry mouth is more than just annoying — it can cause real problems.

Saliva helps keep the bacteria in your mouth in check. When the level of saliva goes down or the consistency changes, you may experience a bacteria imbalance. This can lead to infections, such as thrush, an oral yeast infection, and sores, and it can put you at greater risk of developing cavities.

A dry mouth can also make wearing dentures difficult. When your mouth is dry, your lips can become dry and chapped. This can make talking, eating, chewing, and swallowing unpleasant, difficult, and painful.

Mouth Sores

Some types of chemotherapy, radiation to the head and neck, and even some medications can lead to painful mouth sores. You may experience small ulcerated sores similar to a canker sore. These sores may occur on the inside of your cheeks, on your tongue, or in your throat.

Your gums may also be affected and may be red, swollen, and tender. Mouth sores may be extra sensitive to hot or cold foods as well as specific foods. For example, some people may find foods with high acidity, such as orange juice or tomatoes, are more problematic.

Altered Taste

Many people who undergo cancer treatment complain foods taste differently than they did before. To some, their food may now taste bland. Some people find regardless of what they eat, everything tastes the same. Others find food to have an odd chemical or metallic taste, especially red meat.

If radiation has altered your sense of smell or damaged your salivary glands, you may be more likely to struggle with altered taste buds. Chemotherapy frequently causes nausea, which can in turn alter your sense of taste or reduce your appetite.

How Can You Best Handle These Changes?

If you experience any of these common mouth issues during treatment, be sure to tell your physician or dentist. Your healthcare team may prescribe medication to alleviate mouth pain, saliva substitutes and mouth rinses, or medications that lessen radiation and chemotherapy side effects.

For mouth sores, avoid spicy and acidic foods as well as caffeinated, carbonated, or alcoholic drinks. You should also avoid dry crackers, breads, chips, popcorn, and pretzels as well as acidic fruits and fruits and vegetables with tough skins.

Opt for soft or pureed, non-acidic cooked fruits and vegetables and soft protein sources, like ground meats, eggs, legumes, peanut butter, yogurt, pudding, and ice cream. Choose water and decaffeinated or herbal teas to drink. Apple or pear juice are also good non-acidic options.

If you suffer from dry mouth, it’s important you regularly floss your teeth to remove any food particles bacteria could feed on. Suck on ice chips and sip on water throughout the day. Use a soft toothbrush to avoid damaging your gums and mouth, and see your dentist regularly to proactively guard against cavities.

For altered taste perceptions, know that these symptoms will usually begin to subside a few weeks after you complete treatment. In the meantime, rinse your mouth with a solution of four cups of water and one teaspoon each of salt and baking soda before eating to cleanse your palate.

Accent Dental is experienced in dealing with the special needs of all patients. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.