I have been honored to serve a number of cancer patients and survivors. It is beyond amazing to see their resilience and learn of their perspective. Cancer patients and survivors are some of the most extraordinary people that I meet. There are some changes that occur in the oral mucosa as a side effect of chemotherapy and/or radiation due to cancer.
As a dentist, I evaluate the head and neck area for any abnormalities during oral screenings and exams. One condition that is relatively common in patients that have had chemotherapy is oral mucositis. Oral mucositis is when the lining in the mouth breaks down and small sores or ulcers are visible and uncomfortable to touch or food. These small sores can be reddened or white patches. The areas affected can lose the gum tissue covering them and have bone exposed.
Oral mucositis is a side effect of methotrexate or other chemotherapy and/or radiation. The resulting mouth sores can make eating uncomfortable. One way to manage these sores is using a numbing mouth rinse that has lidocaine in it. Magic mouthwash is a prescription rinse that contains lidocaine, diphenhydramine and Maalox. It can soothe the mouth and alleviate pain from oral mucositis.
It is difficult to get adequate nutrients during therapy especially if the mouth hurts. A soft or liquid diet can be more realistic for a patient. It is important to have good oral hygiene because bacteria present in the mouth can worsen the areas already affected by mucositis. An antimicrobial mouthrinse that is alcohol free such as Colgate Advanced Pro-Shield, along with brushing and flossing frequently helps reduce the risk of infection by keeping the mouth clean. Studies have shown the mucositis is less in severity with good oral hygiene.
Dry mouth is a side effect of chemotherapy that is very common and often goes untreated. Drinking water frequently and using biotene reduces mouth dryness. Biotene is available as a rinse, spray, toothpaste, and as a gel. Dry mouth can increase the risk of cavities and treating dry mouth will save teeth in the long run.
Oral conditions should be managed by seeing the dentist for regular maintenance. We are very supportive and provide our patients with the care and information that is needed. Any findings from an oral screening are discussed and further examined as needed.
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