Chemotherapy and Your Mouth

A frequent question that chemotherapy patients ask Dr. Jay Lopez, is “How does chemotherapy affect my mouth?” They have been advised or read about side effects that make it uncomfortable and difficult to swallow, chew, and speak. There also is increased risk of dental caries and infections of the mouth. It may also surprise you to know that a visit to Tucson dentist, Dr. Jay Lopez, can help you prevent serious mouth problems.

Because chemotherapy can kill normal cells, in addition to cancer cells, and because the immune system is suppressed during this type of treatment, there can be numerous painful and harmful side effects, including damage and infection in cells of the lining of the mouth, salivary glands, gum tissue and teeth. When being treated with chemo therapy, you may have reduced saliva production that could be severe, and due to reduced moisture in the mouth, have increased susceptibility to dental decay.

Side effects often happen because a person’s mouth is not healthy before chemotherapy starts or because preventive dental options were not planned. Not all mouth problems can be avoided, but the fewer side effects that you have, the more likely you will stay on your cancer treatment schedule.

You need to see Dr. Lopez as soon as possible for a comprehensive exam before chemotherapy begins. It is best to treat all dental concerns that could lead to a dental emergency prior to starting chemotherapy. If you have already started chemotherapy and you have not seen us, please schedule an appointment as soon as possible.

Note: Dentures that don’t fit well can cause problems. Talk to Dr. Lopez about your dentures.

It is also important for Dr. Lopez and your cancer doctor to talk to each other about your cancer treatment. Be sure to give us your cancer doctor’s phone number.

Once your treatment starts, it’s important for you to look in your mouth every day for sores or other changes, and report changes to Dr. Lopez and your cancer doctor. These tips can help prevent and treat a sore mouth:

  • Keep your mouth moist.
  • Drink a lot of water.
  • Suck ice chips.
  • Use oral hygiene products recommend by Dr. Jay Lopez.
  • Use sugarless gum or sugar-free hard candy.
  • Use a saliva substitute to help moisten your mouth.
  • Clean your mouth, tongue, and gums.
  • Brush your teeth, gums, and tongue with an extra-soft toothbrush after every meal and at bedtime. If brushing hurts, soften the bristles in warm water.
  • Use a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Don’t use mouthwashes with alcohol in them.
  • Floss your teeth gently every day. If your gums bleed and hurt, avoid the areas that are bleeding or sore, but keep flossing your other teeth.
  • Rinse your mouth several times a day with a solution of 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1/8 teaspoon salt in one cup of warm water. Follow with a plain water rinse.

If you begin suffering from dry mouth:

  • Avoid spicy food, alcohol, tobacco, caffeinated beverages, and sugary foods and beverages.
  • Choose foods that are good for you and easy to chew and swallow.
  • Sip liquids with your meals.
  • Speak to your cancer doctor and Dr. Lopez about your symptoms and medications.

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