Sink your teeth into this: More than 40% of cancer patients having chemotherapy, and almost every patient undergoing radiation, will experience oral mucositis (mouth sores), xerostomia (dry mouth) and oral thrush.
Now, I know what you are thinking: what’s the big of a deal? The fact is, oral care issues can have serious implications on a patient’s health. Mouth sores, which can get as large as one and a half inches, can become so painful that it causes a patient to stop eating and become malnourished. Dry mouth is problematic because saliva contains enzymes that help break down bacteria, preventing cavities and infections. Oncologists have been known to stop chemotherapy or radiation if a patient has either issue. Trust me when I say, you don’t want to find yourself in this position. There is nothing worse than having to delay treatment by weeks or months because of issues related to your teeth and gums.
Since the stats show that almost half of the cancer community will experience some sort of oral care issue, I’m here to share some tips from my book, Pretty Sick: The Beauty Guide for Women with Cancer, that help prevent or minimize these side effects. They are:
Make a Dentist Appointment STAT!
I know that last thing you want to do is to go see another doctor’s appointment but the sooner you can get to the dentist so he clean your teeth and check out your mouth, the better the chance you stand for avoiding these irritating issues later on.
Brush up on your technique
It’s not rocket science but how you brush your teeth (and gums) has a direct impact on how healthy they are. Most people brush side to side or back and forth. These are not correct and will lead to the erosion of the enamel and will inflame the gums. Instead, hold the toothbrush (one with soft bristles) at a forty-five degree angle and brush downward.
I’m going to admit that I wasn’t always the best at flossy. I would skip days on end without doing it. That’s just gross. The only way to get rid of the bacteria, plaque and residual food that linger in the spaces between the teeth is to floss them out. The American Dental Association recommends flossing daily, the ideal time being after dinner. While in treatment it is important to avoid creating any cuts or irritation to the gums. If string floss is too harsh, try “Go-Betweens” cleaning brushes or this ADA-approved Waterpik Water Flosser.
If You Experience Dry Mouth:
- Make sure you are drinking the recommended eight eight-ounces glasses of water per day.
- Sucking on ice throughout the day will keep your mouth lubricated. This is especially helpful to do just before and during chemotherapy infusions as the ice helps to limit how much of the chemical agents reach the blood vessels in the mouth, preventing sores. My tip is to suck on a popsicle or make flavored ice cubes. It just makes the process more yummy and enjoyable.
- Mouth rinses that are formulated to help with dry mouth and oral thrush make a world of difference. The Oral Cancer Foundation recommends Biotene, an alcohol-free rinse formulated with ingredients that lubricates the mouth for hours and helps balance the PH of the mouth. Periosciences is another good one using antioxidants and polyphenol to prevent cottonmouth. Before using, make sure to discuss with both your dentist and oncologist.
If you Experience Mouth Sores:
Dealing with canker-like sores is no joke. The first line of defense is a warm saltwater rinse. Saline helps disinfect aphthous ulcers and minimize inflammation. Here’s how to whip it up from stuff in your kitchen:
- Mix a teaspoon or two of salt (or baking soda) with a glass of warm water.
- Hold the mixture in your mouth and swish around from side-to-side.
- After three minutes, spit it out. Do not swallow, as it can make you dehydrated.
- Repeat after meals and before bed
I hope this helps! If you have any oral care fixes that worked for you, I’d love hear all about them!
… Good news! There are more tips and tricks like the ones listed above in my book Pretty Sick: The Beauty Guide for Women with Cancer. Go visit and (like!) the Pretty Sick Book FB page! https://www.facebook.com/prettysickbook/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel
Pretty Sick is out September 19th, but you can order your copy now! Just click below on the retailer of your choice!
Barnes & Noble