You already know that your oral health can affect the health of the rest of your body, particularly that of your cardiovascular system. According to Dr. Steven McConnell-expert dentist for Smart Now-it’s also linked with your welfare while you’re going through chemotherapy.
“The link between oral health and overall health is now well documented,” he says. “Establishing optimum oral health is important for anyone at any age. After cancer treatment, it is imperative.”
Chemotherapy affects all fast-growing cells in the body, which includes those in the mouth. That’s why we get mouth sores during treatment. You are also more prone to an infection in the lining of your mouth, as your white blood cell count is down and your immune system is not as able to fight off bacteria and viruses. A common side effect is a fungal infection called “thrush” that appears as white patches over the mouth and tongue. If you suffer from this side effect, be sure to check with your doctor. He/she will have anti-fungal medicines you can use.
Chemotherapy can cause dry mouth as well, which can rob your mouth of the protective effect of saliva, and may lead to bleeding gums. Of course, all this sounds really unpleasant. Is there anything we can do to increase our odds of going through treatment with a healthy mouth?
Try these tips. There’s no guarantee you won’t still get some of the irritating mouth side effects, but you’ll be more likely to avoid them or at least lessen their severity a little.
- See your dentist before you start chemotherapy to make sure your mouth starts out as healthy as possible.
- Avoid mouthwashes with alcohol. Use non-alcohol brands like Oasis (made specifically for dry mouth), and PerioBrite.
- Avoid sodium laureth sulfate and use toothpastes with safer ingredients like Tom’s of Maine or Burt’s Bees.
- Even if your mouth is sore, don’t avoid cleaning your teeth. Your teeth are more susceptible to decay during chemotherapy so it’s important to protect them. If a brush feels too harsh, use a softer-bristle type, or ask your dentist for a foam brush. Replace your brush frequently to avoid germs. On your worst days, at least use your non-alcoholic mouthwash or warm water with a little salt.
- Check with your doctor before flossing. You are more at risk for bleeding, and if your blood platelets are low, you could make gums bleed even with gentle flossing. Floss when you can, and try a waterpik at a low setting with warm water when you can’t.
- Keep your lips moist with a non-toxic lip balm. Apply often. Dry lips make it easier for germs to get inside your mouth. Try Badger, Soft Lips Organic, or EOS Organic.
- Avoid things that will irritate your mouth or make it hard to clean. These include spices, garlic, onion, salty foods, crunchy foods, and sticky foods like caramel and other sugars.
- Drink water whenever you can. Avoid acidic drinks like orange and grapefruit juice. Try soothing teas instead.
- Suck on ice chips before eating to help numb the mouth.
- As soon as treatment is over, get to your dentist for a checkup. Together you can arrest any decay or gum damage that may have started from chemotherapy.
Do you have other advice for mouth care during chemotherapy? Please let us know.
Photo courtesy saralonde via Flickr.com.