Oral Care and Hygiene with Mesothelioma Treatment
According to the American Dental Association more than a third of all cancer patients will experience some kind of mouth or dental complication because of the cancer, the treatments or both. While living with mesothelioma and getting treated for it, oral care may not be at top of mind, but it is one of many overall areas of wellness you should consider.
There are many ways in which having mesothelioma may affect your oral health, but you can take steps to minimize or prevent damage. Start by talking to your oncologist about what the risks are and then make an appointment with your dentist to address any current problems before they get worse with cancer treatment. Additionally, there are steps you can take to practice good oral hygiene while you get treatment that will also help prevent damage and complications.
How Chemotherapy Affects Oral Health
It is the treatments that you undergo for mesothelioma that may have the biggest impact on your oral health. Chemotherapy involves injecting drugs into the bloodstream that target and kill fast-growing cells. This means that the drugs target cancer cells, but also many healthy cells and this is one reason that chemotherapy causes so many side effects and complications, including damage to the mouth, teeth, and gums. These are some of the specific oral complications you may experience from undergoing chemotherapy:
- Chemotherapy may cause a deep pain in the teeth that feels like a bad toothache, but is not.
- Changes in taste and difficulty eating. Drugs used in chemotherapy can alter how food tastes and also make eating and swallowing difficult. These side effects can lead to malnutrition and weight loss.
- Oral mucositis. This is ulceration and inflammation in the mouth that can cause pain and infections. Symptoms include sores that are painful, burn, or peel.
- Dysfunction of the salivary glands. Damage to salivary glands causes mouth dryness, which in turn can cause infections in the mouth.
- Bleeding. Chemotherapy drugs may cause bleeding in the gums because of a reduction in clotting factors.
Radiation and Oral Health
Radiation therapy for mesothelioma and other types of cancer is used to aim high-energy beams directly at tumors. This shrinks them by killing the cancer cells, but like chemotherapy drugs this radiation can be harmful to healthy cells. Radiation has the potential to cause many of the same complications in the mouth as chemotherapy, excluding bleeding and neurotoxicity.
Additionally radiation may increase the risk of developing tooth decay and cavities indefinitely after undergoing treatment. Radiation may also cause damage to muscles in the jaw, making chewing more difficult, and can cause bone death in the jaw that may be difficult to heal.
Visit the Dentist before Treatment
One of the most important things you can do for your oral health if you are going to be receiving treatment for mesothelioma, or any other type of cancer, is to make an appointment with your dentist. Your dentist will examine your mouth and find any current problems that can be fixed ahead of treatment. Taking care of these now will help to prevent some of the complications of treatment and will help you feel more comfortable generally.
Good dental care ahead of treatment can also have an impact on the effectiveness of cancer treatment. If oral side effects or complications become severe, treatment may need to be stopped and delayed while your mouth heals. If you go into treatment with good dental health, you have a better chance of being able to continue a full course of chemotherapy or radiation.
Practice Good Oral Hygiene During Treatment
It is also important to take good care of your mouth and teeth during cancer treatment. This includes being aware of the possible complications, checking your mouth regularly for any signs of damage, and checking in with your oncologist and dentist if you do see signs of side effects or you experience discomfort in the mouth. Catching these problems earlier makes them easier to address and treat. Other steps you can take to keep your mouth health include:
- Brush teeth regularly. Brush after every meal and use a soft toothbrush if you have discomfort. Use fluoride toothpaste to strengthen your tooth enamel.
- Avoid mouthwash. Most mouthwash products contain harsh ingredients like alcohol that will cause more irritation.
- Floss gently. Flossing may cause more bleeding and irritation, so try to do it gently and if it hurts or bleeds too much, take a break or avoid those areas that are most sensitive.
- Keep your mouth moist. Dry mouth is a big problem with chemotherapy and can lead to a number of other problems, like infections. Drink plenty of water and suck on ice chips; chew sugarless gum; try saliva substitutes if these other measures still leave your mouth dry.
- Eat soft, moist foods. Eating may become more difficult due to complications, so choose foods that are soft, moist, and easy to chew. Sip water between bites to help soften food even more. Avoid foods that irritate your mouth, including hot foods and drinks, caffeine, spicy foods, and acidic foods.
- Check your dentures. If you wear dentures, make sure they have a good fit. Improperly fitted dentures can cause irritation to become worse.
Oral Care after Treatment
Once you have made it through treatment for cancer, it is important to continue with good dental care. Your treatment may have caused permanent damage or given you a permanent risk for cavities and infections. Continue to brush and floss regularly and see your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings. Eat a healthy diet and avoid smoking to keep your gums and teeth healthy.
Oral health is important because it affects other areas of health and your comfort and quality of life. Focusing on treatments for cancer is important, but you also need to address the complications caused by those treatments to stay healthy and pain-free. Take these important steps and always consult with your oncologist and dentist to make sure your oral health is as good as it can be while you go through treatment and after.
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