A Journey With Breast Cancer Part 4: Taking the bite out of cancer

By Jeanne Romano

You may be surprised by this but your dentist should play an important role in your cancer treatment. I happen to love my dentist, however I think it’s safe to say that having someone probe your teeth and gums with all sorts of pokey implements isn’t anyone’s idea of fun. Unfortunately it’s probably a good idea to check in with your dentist before starting your cancer treatments.

Cancer and your treatments will affect all parts of the body, including your mouth. Especially if you are on a high doses and simultaneous radiation; when the white blood cell count is lowest, oral tissues are most prone to damage which unfortunately could cause delay or even stopping treatment.

If at all possible prior to your treatments, have your teeth cleaned, have a set of X-rays taken, take care of any mouth problems and have your dentist give your mouth the once over to prevent side effects.

Just like common chemo and radiation “side effects,” mouth issues vary – a lot. You may encounter these common problems during your treatments or even for a short time after your treatment ends:

The weirdest problem during my treatment was a loss or change of taste and smell. Being from a home that started each and every Sunday dinner with a bowl of homemade ravioli (yup, mom made the pasta as well as the sauce).  Suddenly, even the smell of sauce made my lip curl. In fact I craved all sorts of unlikely food combinations like (creamy) peanut butter, avocado and hummus on white bread. I agree it does sound a lot like cliché pregnancy cravings.

Another important issue to watch for is dry mouth. It can hurt. Here are some suggestions I got from my dentist to protect my teeth and gums.  They worked!

I…

  • Drank lots of water
  • Sucked on ice chips – found this particularly helpful during my actual chemo treatment
  • Ate soft, moist food that was easy to chew and swallow; cooked cereals, mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs, etc…
    • When I did eat foods that required chewing, I made sure to take small bites, chewed slowly (unheard of in my home) and sipped liquids between the bites.
    • If I still had trouble swallowing, I softened my food with gravy, sauces, broth, yogurt or other liquids.
    • Gargled with a moistening mouthwash – I still use this every night before I go to bed.
    • Used and still use a fluoride toothpaste.
    • Brushed my teeth, gums, and tongue with an extra-soft toothbrush after every meal and at bedtime.  Sometime brushing hurt, so I softened the bristles in warm water.
    • Hate not flossing my teeth. I still did it, very gently, every day. Please be extremely careful. Once in a while my gums would bleed and hurt – so it was key to avoid the areas that are ultra sensitive – however keep flossing your other teeth.
    • Did not use mouthwashes with alcohol.

Not all mouth problems can be avoided but the fewer side effects you have, the more likely you will stay on your cancer treatment schedule.

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