By: David Wright via facingcancer.ca
As the connection between oral hygiene and overall physical wellness becomes increasingly clear, it makes sense for anyone undergoing cancer treatments to pay special attention to the health of their mouth. Although chemotherapy and radiation target specific areas of the body, the effects can sometimes show up in the teeth, gums and other parts of the mouth. Our mouths are teeming with blood vessels—even small ruptures can create an opening for bacteria to enter the bloodstream and cause problems elsewhere. When salivary glands are affected by cancer treatments, the most common complaint is dry mouth, which can lead to sores and even tooth decay. Most patients should have no trouble following their usual daily brushing and flossing routines, but Toronto dentist Dr. Dana Colson recommends using extra care and diligence. “When you keep your mouth as clean as possible,” she says, “it means that there’s less chance for health issues to erupt or persist there, freeing up your body’s resources to tackle existing or emerging concerns in other areas.”
NEXT STEP: MAKE A CHECKLIST
• VISIT YOUR DENTIST OFTEN. Schedule an appointment a couple of weeks before you begin your cancer treatments, as well as follow-ups at least every three months during the regimens. That way, you and your dentist are informed and aware of possible oral issues, every step of the way.
• If you do get dry mouth, USE SPECIAL RINSES to keep oral tissues well lubricated and harmful bacteria at bay. Dr. Colson recommends alcohol-free mouth rinses and low-abrasion toothpastes with high pH indexes. She also recommends keeping your mouth moist with frequent sips of water. “Drinking sparking water with meals is very helpful,” Dr. Colson says. “The effervescent bubbles make chewing food a little less difficult,”
• GIVE YOGA A TRY. In her practice, Dr. Colson promotes a holistic approach to dentistry that emphasizes the connection between the mouth and the overall health of the body. “Teeth clenching and stress close up or block off our energy circuits,” Dr. Colson says. “When you get your body into a relaxed state, it helps balance the pH of your saliva and body fluids. Higher acidity contributes to the wear on teeth and creates more opportunity for decay. An alkaline environment is always a better place to be. Yoga will help.”
For more information on cancer diagnosis and treatment, visit facingcancer.ca.