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Chemotherapy and Your Mouth FAQs

Most patients are aware of the common and more frequently discussed side effects of chemotherapy, including nausea and hair loss. What many may not know is that more than one-third of patients treated for cancer will develop complications with their oral health. When receiving treatment for any form of cancer, not just oral, consult with Dr. Hughes and Dr. Kang before or early on in your chemotherapy treatment so that we may design a plan of defense for you.

Chemotherapy is a harsh, though sometimes necessary treatment. The effects of it can have lasting damage to other areas of your body. At Hughes Dental Group, we want to help you maintain your oral health while going through chemotherapy treatment. The information below has been created to help prevent mouth problems while you are receiving necessary cancer treatments. 

How will chemotherapy affect my mouth?

When placed on chemotherapy for cancer treatment, the drugs are designed to kill cancer cells, though many healthy cells are also killed in the process, including healthy cells in your mouth. Possible oral health related side effects can include problems with your teeth and gums. Common oral problems that arise during chemotherapy include dry mouth and susceptibility to infection, including gum disease. This is because the soft, moist lining of your mouth; and the glands that make saliva do not produce the same levels of saliva, which besides keeping your mouth moist, also helps reduce bacteria. 

Side effects of chemotherapy for your mouth can be serious. Some patients have reported:

• Pain in your mouth, making it more difficult to eat, talk, and swallow.
• Higher susceptibility to infection, our patients who are being treated with chemotherapy have to be even more diligent against possible infection.
• Awareness of how chemotherapy is affecting your health, if the side effects are too severe, your doctor may be able to make some adjustments.

Why should I tell my dentist about my chemo treatments?

When going through cancer treatments, you may not realize the importance of including our dentists, Dr. Hughes or Dr. Kang in the process. Our team at Hughes Dental Group are important in your cancer treatment. If you are able to see us before chemotherapy begins, we can help start you off on your healthiest oral health possible as a preventative measure for possible serious mouth problems. Many dental related issues happen because a person's mouth is not healthy before chemotherapy starts. Not all mouth related problems can be avoided but if we can reduce the problems, the more likely you will stay on your cancer treatment schedule.

Our staff at Hughes Dental Group want to create a working relationship with your oncologist. Together, we can discuss your situation and your cancer treatment. We ask that you please provide us with your oncologist's phone number and sign release information.

When should I see my dentist while being treated for cancer?

It is not always possible to plan, but we would ideally like to see our patients at least 2 weeks before chemotherapy begins. If the chemotherapy treatment process has already begun, and you have not seen us, please schedule an appointment as soon as possible.

What will the dentist and dental hygienist do?

• Check the current status of your teeth.
• Take digital x-rays for any hidden problems.
• Take care of any immediate mouth problems.
• Demonstrate how to care for your mouth during this time to help prevent side effects.

What can I do to keep my mouth healthy while being treated for cancer?

Dr. Hughes and Dr. Kang can offer the best advice for you individually while receiving treatment for cancer. Generally, there is a lot you can do to keep your mouth healthy during chemotherapy. We first recommend seeing us before or as soon as possible during your cancer treatment. Once treatment has begun, we will advise our patients to check their mouths daily for your mouth every day for sores or other visible changes. We will also advise our patients to follow these tips to prevent and treat a sore mouth:

• Keep your mouth moist by drinking a lot of water or by sucking on ice chips, saliva production will decrease, so increasing water is vital.
• Suck on sugarless gum or sugar-free hard candy to promote saliva production.
• Use a saliva substitute to help keep your mouth moist.
• Regularly keep your mouth, tongue and gums clean to remove bacteria and decrease the instance of infection.
• Use an extra soft toothbrush after every meal and before bedtime. If brushing hurts, soften the bristles in warm water.
• Use a fluoridated toothpaste to increase the mineralization of your teeth, keeping your enamel strong.
• Do not use mouthwashes with alcohol in them. Instead of mouthwash, rinse your mouth several times a day with a solution of 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1/8 teaspoon salt in one cup of warm water. Follow with a plain water rinse.
• Very gently, floss your teeth every day. Avoid the areas that are bleeding or sore, but keep flossing your other teeth.
• Ill fitting dentures can cause problems. Keep our office along with your cancer doctor up to date on the fit of your dentures.

The foods and drinks you take in, can affect how your mouth feels.

• Be aware of changes in your ability to swallow due to mouth dryness. Choose foods that are healthy and easy to chew and swallow.
• Taking smaller bites and small sips can help you ingest foods at mealtime.
• Soft and more moist foods may be easier to eat, consider foods such as hot cereals, mashed potatoes, and scrambled eggs.
• The addition of sauces, gravy, broth, yogurt, or other liquids may make eating easier.
• If eating or mouth pain continues, talk to your oncologist about varying medications.

While receiving chemotherapy, avoid: 

• Foods that are sharp or crunchy like chips, or anything that could scrape or cut your mouth.
• Foods that are hot, spicy, or acidic including citrus fruits and juices, these options can irritate your mouth.
• Foods that are sugary or have a higher tendency to cause cavities including candy or soda.
• Anything that could cut your mouth including toothpicks or chewing on pencils or other non-edible objects.
• All tobacco products.
• All alcoholic drinks unless approved by oncologist.

Children’s oral health and cancer treatments

Parents have so many reasons to be concerned while their child is being treated for cancer through chemotherapy. Oral health is one of their reasons for concern. Teeth issues are very common in children while under chemotherapy. The growth of their permanent teeth may be considerably slower to come in and their permanent teeth may appear different in formation. Teeth may even fall out. At Hughes Dental Group, we will check your child's jaws for any growth problems. Be sure to take our office into consideration during this time. 

Before chemotherapy begins, schedule an appointment for us to see your child. We will check your child's mouth carefully and pull loose teeth or those that may become loose during treatment. Ask us what you can do to help your child with mouth care.

We ask that parents of our young patients with cancer be sure to: 

• Visit us at least 2 weeks, or as soon as possible, before your cancer treatment begins.
• Remember to consider their oral health during treatment.
• Establish a working relationship between our office and your child's oncologist.

We are happy to create a treatment plan around your chemotherapy plan. Contact Robert J. Hughes, DDS or Thomas C. Kang, DDS, DICOI at our Everett, WA 98208 office for more information. (425) 358-8500