Most everyone knows that chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. However, it also kills normal cells in the body. My family (Dr. Harmon’s) witnessed this when our one-year-old son was diagnosed with heptoblastoma in 2001. He underwent 10 months of chemotherapy and had two thirds of his liver removed. Most of the side effects of chemotherapy involve the stomach lining and the ability to fight infection. It can also affect the oral cavity as well. This involves the teeth, gums, tongue, soft tissue on the inside cheek and roof of mouth. The salivary glands can be affected also.
Oral effects of chemotherapy can reduce salivary flow resulting in dry burning peeling mouth, reduced and or metallic taste, and susceptibility to infection and cavities. Prevention is the best measure. Prior to chemotherapy a dentist should see you to ensure your teeth are in optimum health. Your teeth should be cleaned, known and unknown infections treated, cavities filled, and potential problems corrected. You should also receive a prescription for fluoride rinse or gel. Dentures that do not fit well should be adjusted, repaired, relined or remade.
During chemotherapy drink plenty of water, chew Xylitol gum and suck on sugarless candy to keep your mouth moist. Brush your teeth with extra soft toothbrush after meals and at bedtime. Floss every day and use your prescription fluoride supplement. Our son Michael is cancer free.