Oral Care for Cancer Patients

By: Dr. Elizabeth Eggert

May is oral cancer awareness month. And although oral cancer affects more than 50,000 people each year, regular visits with your dentists at Eggert Family Dentistry can help detect early warning signs.

Regardless of whether you’ve been diagnosed with oral cancer or another cancer, you may notice changes in your mouth. Chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, and other types of cancer treatments can have an impact on your mouth. Your gums, teeth, and salivary glands can be seriously affected.

However, with good oral care, you can help mitigate the side effects and lower the risk of other oral challenges.

Oral Sides Effects of Cancer Treatment

The type of cancer treatment you receive will affect the symptoms you have, as well as the oral care you need. The most common oral side effects of cancer treatment include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Thick saliva
  • Changes in taste
  • Mouth sores
  • Difficulty chewing and swallowing
  • Higher risk of tooth decay and gum disease

The Best Oral Care for Cancer Patients

The most effective oral care for cancer patients may feel similar to the best dental hygiene you could have. Oral care for cancer patients includes:
Brushing your teeth, but maybe more gently: Because your mouth can be more sensitive, be sure to use your soft toothbrush and brush more gently than you normally would.

Brushing your teeth more often: In addition to brushing your teeth gently in the morning and at night, consider brushing after every meal because of the decrease in saliva.

Maintaining your flossing routine: If you already floss your teeth, continue flossing, ideally before bed. However, if you haven’t been a regular flosser, start now, but be prepared for slightly more irritation in your gums at first.

Rinsing your mouth every 4 to 6 hours: An important part of oral care for cancer patients includes rinsing your mouth multiple times each day. The best rinses will be plain water, salt water, or baking soda water.

Keeping your lips moisturized: Because your mouth will produce less saliva than normal, it’s important to keep your lips moisturized. Apply a moisturizer (such as Aquaphor or Vaseline) every 4 to 6 hours.

Be prepared for yeast infections: Especially if you wear dentures, due to more limited saliva production, you will be more prone to yeast infections. Keep your dentures impeccably clean and rinse your mouth as described above.

Managing Oral Pain During Cancer Treatment

The right oral care for cancer patients can help alleviate mouth pain during cancer treatments. In addition to the steps listed above that you should add to your routine, there are other things that you may need to remove from your routine. During cancer treatment, you should avoid:

  • Alcohol and tobacco
  • Mouthwash, especially any that has alcohol or sugar
  • Salty food and strong spices
  • Citrus fruit and juice
  • Tomatoes and tomato sauce
  • Other acidic foods or drinks
  • Hard, dry, or coarse foods
  • Very hot or cold foods and liquids

Schedule an Appointment Before You Start Cancer Treatment

If you’re starting cancer treatment, it can be helpful to meet with the dentists at Eggert Family Dentistry first. Your body is going through a lot right now, and good oral care is essential in helping your mouth feel as good as possible. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Elizabeth or Dr. Jeff, call our office at 651-482-8412.

8 Bad Brushing Habits

By: Dr. Elizabeth Eggert

Maybe you’ve heard this clever little saying: You don’t have to brush all of your teeth. Only the ones you want to keep. While that is true in a great sense – the powerful effects of brushing cannot be underestimated – it doesn’t address the heart of the matter: There is a difference between proper and improper brushing. At Eggert Family Dentistry, we educate our patients on this difference and encourage good brushing habits while helping you break the bad ones! Here are some bad habits to break when brushing your teeth that can ultimately cause more harm than good.

Using a brush with hard bristles

Hard bristle brushes can irritate gums and cause them to recede, exposing roots and inducing sensitivity. They can also wear away enamel. When you buy your next brush, opt for a “soft” brush as opposed to a “medium” or “hard” one.

Using the wrong size brush

Brush heads come in a variety of sizes. If you have a smaller mouth and are brushing with a larger brush, you may not be able to brush the plaque out of the recesses of your mouth. When plaque builds up, cavities form and gum disease can set in. Make sure your toothbrush is proportional to your mouth. Sometimes a smaller brush head can help you get into the “nooks and crannies” a little better.

Brushing right after eating

Brushing after eating is a good thing, right? Keep in mind that acidic foods and beverages can soften enamel. If you brush softened enamel it can cause accelerated wear and tear on your teeth. It is best to wait until your saliva has had a chance to neutralize the pH in your mouth before you bust out the toothbrush. Usually an hour or so will do it. Then brush away!

Storing your toothbrush in a closed container

When you’re done brushing, where do you store your toothbrush? If you put it in a travel toothbrush case or other enclosed container, you might think you’re protecting it from germs. In reality however, when your toothbrush doesn’t get a chance to dry out, bacteria and mildew can form on the bristles. Store your toothbrush in a way that’s open to the air so it can dry out between uses.

Brushing too hard

Hard brushing, like brushing with a stiff-bristled toothbrush, can cause gums to prematurely recede, exposing roots and causing tooth sensitivity. Soft but thorough brushing is the secret to clean and healthy teeth and gums. “Small circular motions at the gumline…” these should be familiar instructions from your recare visits with us.

Using an old toothbrush

Worn bristles don’t clean as thoroughly. Are your bristles frayed or splayed? Swapping out your toothbrush every 3-4 months will help you get the best cleaning each time you brush.

Not brushing long enough

Many of us rush brushing so we can get out the door for work or get to bed. The ADA, however, recommends brushing for two minutes every time you brush. An easy way to keep track is to keep a timer on the bathroom counter and set it each time. Or you can play a song while you brush. Most songs last between two and three minutes and listening to one can definitely help time pass more quickly.

Not brushing the gum line

When brushing your teeth, don’t neglect your gum line. This is a place where food settles and bacteria can easily form. Ward off gum disease by placing your toothbrush at a 45° angle against your gums and brushing each tooth 15 to 20 times in that circular pattern we talked about earlier.

Eggert Family Dentistry wants you to get the most out of your daily brushing. Have you ever considered switching to an electric toothbrush? Check out our video here to learn more! If you have additional brushing questions, don’t hesitate to ask one of our fabulous hygienists at your next recare visit. Joanna, Lea, Shelly, and Cassie are here to help you! Read more about our hygienists here!