It can be devastating to find out you or a loved one has cancer. Even when treatment is available, side effects are notorious for occurring long after cancer has gone into remission. According to your dentist in Putnam, some of these side effects can affect your oral health.
You’ll want to prepare for the process that comes after cancer treatment. Take a moment to read what common side effects occur and how to treat them when they do.
Side Effects Common After Cancer Treatment
Several cancer treatments can cause side effects in your mouth, teeth, and salivary glands, making it difficult to eat, chew, or swallow. These can vary depending on the type of cancer treatment you experienced, so keep that in mind as you review them below.
Radiation therapy to the head and neck can cause:
- Dry mouth
- Decrease in saliva production or thickened saliva
- Loss of taste
- Mouth sores
- Stiffness in the jaw
- Increased risk in tooth decay
- Bone disease
These side affects can be temporary or occur for several years after treatment, so be sure to tell your dentist when they appear or discontinue. Chemotherapy as well as stem cell/bone marrow transplantation can have the above-mentioned side effects as well the following:
- Pain in the mouth and gums
- Peeling or burning of the tongue
- Changes in taste
- Temporary decrease in your body’s ability to produce infection-fighting cells
You’ll want to keep track of the medications you’re currently taking or have previous taken as they can also cause unexpected effects. For example, if you take bisphosphonates you can get osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ) which causes weakening and loss of bone in that area. If you opted for targeted therapies to remove cancer, you may have been prescribed mTOR inhibitors which can cause canker sores.
Managing and Treating These Side Effects
It’s important to practice palliative care, or care that’s specifically for side effects during and after cancer treatment. For example, use mouth rinses containing salt and baking soda to treat mouth sores. If you are taking blood pressure medication, use a prescribed rinse designed to soothe sore spots. Pain medications can also be used to treat pain from these mouth sores and come in several applications.
Drink plenty of water and other sugarless fluids to reduce dry mouth. Avoid soda, fruit juice, tobacco and alcohol as this can exacerbate your dry mouth. Some medications can help you produce more saliva such as topical oral gels. If you’re experiencing infection, your doctor should prescribe you antibiotics, antiviral drugs, and/or antifungal drugs for treatment.
Taking Preventive Measures for Future Treatments
It’s recommended to see your dentist at least 4 weeks prior to starting your cancer treatment. This way they can treat tooth decay, ensure any oral devices are properly fitted, and remove any devices that could irritate parts of your mouth. Be sure to tell your dentist to share relevant information with your cancer doctor so they can plan your care together.
For at-home care, gently brush your teeth twice a day and floss once a day. Soak an extra-soft toothbrush in warm water to reduce irritation brushing may cause. Include a fluoride gel or rinse to catch extra bacteria that’s missed after brushing. Avoid alcohol; very hot, cold, spicy, acidic, or crunchy foods; and watch your sugar intake to reduce bacteria. Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D and calcium each day to help your jaw and teeth stay strong.
Schedule an appointment with your dentist in Putnam before starting your cancer treatment today.
About the Author
Dr. Walter McGinn attended Providence College before achieving his Doctor of Dental Medicine at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. The following year, he completed his General Practice residency at Long island Jewish Hospital. To learn more about this practice, contact him at (860) 928-3723 or visit his website.