How Chemotherapy Affects Your Teeth

Too many Americans know that cancer is the fight of your life. What they don’t know is that chemotherapy treatments can create vulnerabilities within your mouth. Chemotherapy is defined as the use of drugs to treat cancer, by destroying cancer cells. Unfortunately, chemo kills healthy cells leaving the immune system even more compromised. Dentists recommend that if you are going to begin chemotherapy treatment that you should visit the dentist at least one month before treatment begins to avoid complications and minimize symptoms related to chemo.

Prevent Dental Symptoms

With proper dental care before and after cancer treatment, you can reduce your risk for developing painful symptoms and make your treatment a bit more comfortable. Yet some of the following common symptoms may develop (this list is not exhaustive of symptoms that may develop during chemo):

  • Oral Mucositis (OM)
    • This condition causes painful ulcers as well as inflammation in the mouth, impeding on nutrition, speaking and swallowing. It may reach its peak around seven to ten days after the initiation of chemotherapy.
  • Infection
    • As the immune system becomes increasingly suppressed, infections in the mouth are not uncommon.
    • Visiting a dentist before treatment is beneficial because the dentist will be able to examine your mouth and assess your risk for infection, as well as provide suggestions for preventive care.
  • Taste Changes
    • Depending on the medications administered to you, your sense of taste may be slightly modified. While uncomfortable, this symptom isn’t dangerous nor a serious cause for concern.
    • Speak to your dental health care professional about what you can do to make eating more enjoyable.


Palliative Care

To reduce the negative and uncomfortable dental symptoms as a result of chemotherapy, it is best to speak with your dentist as well as your cancer care doctor for the most individualized suggestions. Some of the following preventive measures can be taken to reduce discomfort:

  • Fluoride Varnish
    • Fluoride varnish application prior to treatment can help to protect teeth from decay (which will make oral symptoms more uncomfortable and complicated).
  • Avoidance of certain foods and drinks, such as those that are:
    • Spicy
    • Hot
    • Crunchy
    • Sharp
    • Sugary
    • High in acid
    • Drinks that are alcoholic

The aforementioned food and drinks can irritate already sensitive gums as well as ulcers and sores. Therefore, it is best to avoid them in order to make eating more comfortable.

  • Brushing with an extra-soft toothbrush, soaked in warm water.
    • Taking extra care to be gentle with your dental hygiene is important to avoid bleeding and cuts which can easily become infected.
  • Use a moistened cotton ball to clean teeth and gums if the pain is severe.
    • Pain can be unbearable in some cases, but it is better to at least attempt to clean the gums and teeth to decrease the risk of infection.

Although at times the fight for your life can seem all too daunting, know that a comfortable cancer treatment process is possible. With the proper preparation, you can make treatment much more bearable for yourself. Schedule your dental appointment at least one month before the initiation of your chemotherapy treatments at 516-825-1100.


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