Oral care during cancer treatment

Last updated Nov 6, 2023

Last updated Nov 6, 2023

“Cancer is a constant unwanted companion that opens the door to an unchosen journey and demands to be followed.” – Dennis M. Abbott, D.D.S.

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the treatments consisting of the stoppage of cell division. It not only affects the malignant cells but also the normal cells lining the mouth. As the radiations and chemicals used for treatment cannot differentiate the cancerous cells and the normal cells it can cause damage to your teeth and organs around it.

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) estimates that 40% of patients receiving cancer treatment therapy are at a risk of oral complications. Maintaining oral hygiene for patients battling with cancer will help to prevent further complications.

Complications

  1. Oral bleeding: Cancer being a condition of uncontrolled multiplication of abnormal cells, the disease, and its treatment lowers the immunity of the patient. This leads to a decrease in the platelet count resulting in oral bleeding.
  2. Xerostomia or dry mouth: The radiations may affect the salivary gland which can cause dry mouth. That affects mastication, speech and swallowing.
  3. Pain: Weak immunity caused by chemotherapy results in elevating the sensitivity of the patient. It thus decreases the pain threshold, resulting in fatigue and weakness.
  4. Infection: Decrease in immunity causes normal oral flora to dominate and infect the cavity. Most common being mucositis(infection of the mucous membrane) and candidiasis caused by Candida albicans.
  5. Tooth decay: Saliva plays an important role in preventing dental decay. Dry mouth caused due to radiotherapy acts as a reservoir for bacteria, causing caries.
  6. Swollen gums: It may occur during the treatment of chemotherapy or radiotherapy. This is an indication of gum disease.

How to reduce oral complications prior to cancer treatment?

  • Have a well-balanced diet. Eating nutritious food will help you boost your immune system.
  • Maintain a good oral hygiene. Clean your teeth using the proper technique as recommended by your dentist/doctor.
  • Visit your dentist for a complete oral exam.
  • Rinsing your mouth as frequently as possible washes away any food particles and debris which will prevent further risk of dental caries and infection. You can also use saliva-inducing gums which are sugar-free.
  • Complete stoppage of tobacco and alcohol consumption.
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scanO (formerly DentalDost)

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Author Bio: Dr. Vidhi Bhanushali is the Co-Founder and Chief Dental Surgeon at scanO (formerly DentalDost). A recipient of the Pierre Fauchard International Merit Award, she is a holistic dentist who believes that everyone should have access to oral healthcare, irrespective of class and geography. She strongly believes that tele-dentistry is the way to achieve that. Dr. Vidhi has also spoken at various dental colleges, addressing the dental fraternity about dental services and innovations. She is a keen researcher and has published various papers on recent advances in dentistry.

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