Taking Care of Your Teeth During Cancer Treatments

Taking Care of Your Teeth During Cancer Treatments

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, the last thing on your mind is your oral health.

With that being said, there are valuable screenings and treatments available to ensure good oral health before, during, and after cancer treatment.

How can I take care of my teeth following a cancer diagnosis?

In some cases, there is time in between receiving a diagnosis and beginning treatment. This is the ideal time to check in with your dentist, especially if it has been a long time since your last visit.

Once you arrive for your appointment, your dentist should take a full series of x-rays using digital technology to reduce your exposure to radiation. They will work with you to create a dental plan for all necessary dental work to be completed at least two weeks before you begin treatment.

If you have any teeth that cannot be saved or teeth that are loose, they should be removed at least 7 to 10 days before you begin chemotherapy. Doing this can reduce the spread of tooth decay that causes cavities to develop. For patients at high risk for cavities, your dental hygienist will coat your teeth with a fluoride varnish after a cleaning. They can advise you of the best techniques and tools that will help you keep up with your oral care during chemotherapy.

If you will be exposed to radiation in your head and neck area, your dentist and the dental laboratory can create a custom-fitted guard to protect your teeth. This is extremely important as radiation therapy can significantly speed along any small areas of cavities.

How can I take care of my teeth during cancer treatment?

While undergoing cancer treatment, you may need to change up your oral care habits. You should be carefully cleaning your teeth after every meal or snack with an extra gentle toothbrush. When brushing your teeth, use a prescription strength toothpaste once a day. Any other times, use a non-foaming toothpaste.

Flossing every day is important, unless you have a low blood count. In that case, an oral irrigator such as a Waterpik on a low setting is the best option. Once you’ve flossed, use an alcohol-free mouthwash every night before bed to reduce the number of bacteria and the possibility of inflammation.

Feeling sick during cancer treatment is common. If you vomit, rinse your mouth with ¼ teaspoon of baking soda, ¼ teaspoon of salt, and one cup of warm water. Swish the solution around in your mouth and wait at least 30 minutes before brushing to avoid damaging any areas potentially weakened by acids.

If you find that your mouth is constantly dry, you can use oral gels and lozenges or sugar-free candies to keep your mouth moist. Sipping on water or ice chips throughout the day is another alternative. If none of those techniques work, your dentist can prescribe certain medications to help alleviate your dry mouth or fungal infections which can develop when undergoing chemotherapy or radiation.

One of the best things you can do to promote overall body healing is to keep the bacterial count in your mouth low. You can do this by having your teeth cleaned every eight weeks during treatment after speaking with your oncologist first. These regular cleanings will not only help your teeth to look great, it will help them to feel great as well. During this time, your dentist can make recommendations about the best way to prevent any problems while your body focuses on healing.

Getting a cancer diagnosis is scary and stressful. Your oral health shouldn’t be an added burden. Dr. Andrea Stevens is committed to giving you the best possible care during this time.