Why You Need a Dentist Before, During and After Treatment

Once diagnosed with breast cancer, most of us are just trying to cope with the preparations we need to make for our treatment. We dread and anticipate the side effects of hair loss and nausea associated with chemotherapy. Few of us are even aware of the mouth complications that can and do occur in more than one-third of those being treated for breast cancer.

In addition to interfering with your quality of life, having any untreated mouth problems can impact on your treatment.

This is just one of several reasons to see your dentist as soon as you know you will be having chemotherapy. In addition to taking care of any existing mouth conditions, the dentist can help to reduce the possible side effects that can affect your gums, teeth, your mouth lining, and your saliva glands.

When you go for a pre-treatment visit, ask your dentist to contact and speak with your oncologist about your upcoming cancer treatment. Make your oncologist aware that you are seeing a dentist, and consider your dentist a part of your care team as you will be seeing him or her during treatment, as needed, and after treatment is completed.

Each of us may experience mouth side effects differently. Some of the most common side effects make it harder to eat, to swallow, and even to talk.  Many patients complain of mouth sores, and that their food has no taste. When food has no taste, it can affect the desire to eat and take in needed nourishment.

Mouth pain and irritated gums also make eating and speaking difficult.

Chemo makes you more vulnerable to infection. Untreated mouth problems can lead to an infection that can delay or interrupt treatment. A dry mouth can make eating difficult and cause bad breath.

Before You Start Treatment the Dentist Will:

  • Examine your mouth and do a thorough cleaning.
  • As needed, take x-rays.
  • Fix any mouth problems
  • Spend time speaking with you and showing you how you can care for your mouth to prevent side effects or reduce the incidence of side effects once treatment starts.

 Things To Do to Keep Your Mouth Healthy

  • Drink lots of water throughout the day.
  • Chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free hard candy.
  • Suck ice chips
  • Use fluoride toothpaste on an extra-soft toothbrush after every meal and at bedtime to clean your teeth, gums and tongue.
  • Use an alcohol-free mouthwash.
  • Gently floss your teeth each day. Don’t floss areas that are sore.
  • Make sure your dentures are fitting properly. Ill-fitting dentures will cause problems. Be sure to take your dentures out each night.

What to Eat and Drink with a Sore Mouth

  • Eat small meals, several times a day, that are easy to chew and swallow.
  •  Eat slow, taking small bites, and sip on liquids that will make the food go down easier.
  • Choose soft, moist foods.
  • If swallowing is a problem, cover your food with liquids such as gravy, sauces, or broths that will help with swallowing.

    What Not to Eat with a Sore Mouth

    • Foods that can irritate the gums, such as hard cookies or chips
    • Spicy foods
    • High acid fruits and juices
    • Foods that can cause cavities, such as foods heavy in sugar.
    • Alcoholic beverages

    During the years I took Tamoxifen, I had to be treated for a gum problem that began 6 months into hormone therapy and ended 3 months after I finished my 5-year cycle. I  have not had the problem again in 16 years.

    It is important to keep seeing your dentist, on a regular basis, to make sure that hormone therapy is not causing any mouth problems.

    Sources: National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute

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