Patients receiving cancer treatment therapy are often at risk for oral complications. Most dental practices are closed for routine procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s more important now than ever to take care of your oral health. I have treated many patients with a history of cancer treatment therapy, and with proper precautions taken, they have managed to keep their teeth and gums healthy. Below, you will find tips to help keep your oral health stable and prevent you from having any dental emergencies.
- Brush twice a day for 2 minutes, plaque is sticky and stubborn.
- Brush in a systematic manner, don’t skip around.
- For the most effective plaque removal use a Sonic toothbrush. A Sonic toothbrush can remove 4 times more plaque from the crevices and surfaces of your teeth than a manual toothbrush. I recommend the Sonicare due to its reliability, customer service support, shape of the brush head, and sonic motion of the bristles. Sonic motion is gentler on the gums than bristles that spin side to side.
- Brush with baking soda toothpaste. I recommend Arm & Hammer Dental Care due to its low abrasion qualities and ability to neutralize acids that can cause breakdown to your enamel. Neutralizing acids on the teeth is very important while undergoing cancer therapy due to the decrease in saliva flow.
- If mouth ulcers are a recurring problem, use a toothpaste that is SLS-Free (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate.) I recommend ProNamel or Arm & Hammer Essentials in this case.
- Use an oral irrigator once a day to help remove stubborn bacteria and food debris from under the gumline. The use of an oral irrigator is to help prevent bleeding gums.
- Floss once a day. Even if you are using an oral irrigator, you would benefit greatly from still flossing once a day. While the oral irrigator is good at removing bacteria and debris from under the gumline, it is not effective at removing debris from directly in between your teeth (where they touch on the sides.) Where the teeth touch on the sides is a very common area for cavities to form. To prevent these cavities from forming I recommend flossing once a day.
- Rinse with a non-alcoholic fluoride mouth wash twice a day. Many patients will suffer from dry mouth or mouth sores, the alcohol can irritate the oral tissues and make these conditions worse. The fluoride will help strengthen the teeth and protect against cavities.
- Rinse with a baking soda rinse (1/4tsp baking soda with 1 C water) before and after meals to help soothe your tissue and help neutralize acids. Use warm water, stir, swish, and spit.
- If mouth sores are present and make eating difficult you can contact your Dentist to obtain a prescription mouthwash to help ease the pain (usually Magic Mouthwash.)
- When swishing with a mouth rinse, 30 seconds is optimal, unless it is the Magic Mouthwash. Magic Mouthwash works best with 1-2 minutes of swishing.
- Avoid hard foods that can irritate the tissue, and cause cracking or chipping of the enamel.
- Avoid foods that are spicy, these may cause more mouth sores and irritation.
- Choose softer foods that are less irritating and
easier to chew and swallow. Examples of
softer food choices:
- Cottage cheese
- Mashed potatoes
- Ground meat
- Baked beans
- Canned vegetables
- Avoid chewing on ice. If you are using ice to soothe dry mouth, sucking on the ice is better for the teeth. Chewing ice can cause tiny cracks in your enamel, making your teeth more susceptible to breaking.
- Stress and change of routine can often lead to a Bruxism habit (grinding and clenching your teeth.) If you notice a sore or tired jaw in the morning, increased headaches, and increased overall sensitivity of your teeth, contact your dentist to be evaluated for wearing a nightguard. If your dental office is closed, your Dentist may recommend an “over the counter” Night Guard for temporary use. If you already have a nightguard, make sure you are wearing it at night.
- If you are chewing gum or sucking on hard candies to help increase your salivary flow, it is recommended that you chose sugar-free. When your mouth is dry the plaque and sugars stick to your teeth, the sugar in chewing gum and candy will increase your risk of cavities.
Hydration is extremely important for your teeth, gums, and overall health. Try to drink at least 64 oz of water a day. I recommend patients drink water throughout the day to help moisturize the tissue and cleanse the teeth after eating meals and snacking
Kimberly Meehan, RDH, is a practicing dental hygienist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is a 1994 graduate of Community College of Philadelphia’s Dental Hygiene Program. Kimberly is also CEO and dental hygiene consultant for KMC Hygiene. She is married to her husband James, who works for the Naval Surface Warfare Center Philadelphia Division, and serves in the United States Air Force Reserve. They reside in Brooklawn, New Jersey, where Kimberly is chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission. In her spare time, she enjoys running, cycling, CrossFit training, skiing, relaxing on the beach, and pageantry. Kimberly is the former Mrs. New Jersey International 2008, and she currently is a co-director of the New Jersey International Pageants.