Our dental experts have put together this simple guide to help prevent problems and help you care for your oral health during cancer treatment.

COMMON ORAL COMPLICATIONS DURING CANCER TREATMENT

  • Infections or inflammation in the mouth
  • Taste changes
  • Dry mouth aka xerostomia
  • Tooth decay
  • Bleeding gums and gum disease
  • Changes in dental growth and development in children
  • Breakdown of bone and tissue in area of radiation
  • Discomfort or pain
  • Malnutrition due to the loss of appetite or difficulty in eating
  • Swelling, burning or peeling of tongue
  • Dehydration

CAUSES OF DENTAL PROBLEMS DURING CANCER TREATMENT

There are several causes of potential mouth problems during cancer treatment.
  • Chemotherapy and radiation can reduce your body’s ability to repair and fight infection.
  • Radiation of the neck or head can directly damage oral tissue, salivary glands or bone.
  • Pain relief and many other medications can cause dry mouth (xerostomia) or mouth ulcers.
  • Underlying dental problems can flare-up.
  • Chemotherapy, radiation and some medications can upset the healthy balance of bacteria in your mouth.
An effective oral care routine can help you prevent or manage these problems.

PREVENTING ORAL ISSUES

  • Visit your dentist for a thorough check-up (including X-rays) before your treatment starts – one month before, if time allows, which enables them to detect and treat any underlying decay or infection. Ideally, there should be at least two weeks between dental surgery and starting treatment.
  • It’s a very good idea to see the oral hygienist for a professional clean and polish after diagnosis, to remove plaque and tartar build-up and your mouth is in tip-top shape at the beginning.
  • If you wear dentures, check their fit to ensure they aren’t irritating the mouth.
  • If you have orthodontic braces ask your orthodontist if you should remove them for the duration of treatment.
  • Diet plays a role. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks, or very salty, spicy, cold, acidic or rough foods that may irritate or dry out your mouth. Oral bacteria thrive on sugar, so reduce it as much as possible and have a nutritious, healthy diet with plenty of calcium and Vitamin D.
  • If you experience nausea and vomiting, don’t brush your teeth immediately afterwards as stomach acid demineralises enamel and weakens your teeth. Simply rinse your mouth with water or an alcohol-free mouthwash like Dentyl Dual Action, then wait an hour or so before brushing.

YOUR IDEAL DAILY ORAL CARE ROUTINE

A few mild adjustments to your daily oral care routine can make it easier and more effective during your treatment.
  • Brush correctly at least twice a day for a full two minutes each time, right up to the gum line. Use a soft brush that will be gentler and cleans more effectively. Dip the brush in warm water before brushing to soften the bristles.
  • Strong kinds of toothpaste may irritate the gums. Rather use mild toothpaste or for an ultra-natural option try Olgani Naturals paste or toothpowders.
  • Clean in-between the teeth daily. If you find floss too firm, try an interdental brush or Sunstar GUM Soft-Picks. Not sure which to use? Ask your oral hygienist, they would love to get you cleaning in-between the teeth and can advise which tools to use.
  • After eating or vomiting, rinse with an alcohol-free mouthwash like Dentyl Dual Action, Thryve or Olgani as alcohol will dry out already sensitive oral tissues.
You may well feel extremely tired during treatment, try not to let that negatively impact your oral care routine. A quality electric toothbrush or Sunstar GUM Daily Toothbrushes will give a ‘supreme clean’ with minimum effort.

DRY MOUTH

More than 400 commonly prescribed medications list dry mouth or xerostomia as a potential side-effect, including many chemotherapy drugs. There’s a strong chance you may experience reduced saliva flow at some point during your treatment. A dry mouth can make it difficult to swallow and even talk. Because saliva is the body’s way of keeping the mouth clean, plaque and bacteria build up more quickly, and you are at higher risk of bleeding gums, bad breath and dental decay. Rehydrating the mouth is the number one priority. Drinking water will give temporary relief and chewing gum can stimulate saliva flow. Some medications help produce saliva and products like Sunstar GUM Hydral have been designed specifically to moisturise and lubricate oral tissues.

MOUTH ULCERS

Mouth ulcers and sores are very common during cancer treatment.  They can be painful because they expose sensitive nerve endings which can make drinking, eating, talking and even cleaning your mouth uncomfortable. Whilst you might be tempted to not clean your mouth when it’s sore, an effective oral hygiene routine will help prevent further infection and can speed up healing. To learn easy ways to manage mouth ulcers read this article. For fast, effective relief try Aloclair gel or spray.

CRACKED LIPS

You may find your lips become dry and cracked during cancer treatment.

USEFUL LINKS

While cancer treatment can affect your mouth, a few simple tweaks to your oral care routine can help you prevent and manage many common oral problems. Your dental professional is also available to support you at this time. If at all possible see your dentist before beginning treatment and let them know if you experience any problems during your road to recovery. For further advice we’ve put together a useful Cancer and Oral Care booklet LOVE YOUR LIFE, LOVE YOUR ORAL CARE – download free here. The Cancer Association of South Africa website has excellent resources and the Look Good, Feel Better programme is focused on helping you look and feel your best during treatment.

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The information provided on this website is intended for general informational purposes only. It should not be construed as medical advice or used as a substitute for professional medical diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, oral hygienist or another healthcare provider regarding your oral health or other medical conditions. Reliance on information provided on this website is solely at your own risk.

RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS

GUM Paroex Intensive Action Mouth Rinse 0.12% 300ml

R166,00
GUM Paroex Intensive Action Mouthrinse is a powerful dual-action combination of chlorhexidine, the gold standard for plaque control, and CPC for intensive plaque control when you need it most. This alcohol-free rinse is recommended to help restore gum health before, during and after oral surgery or treatment including: tooth extraction; implant placement; new orthodontic fittings. It is also recommended when treating gum disease, to help manage and prevent gingivitis and periodontitis. Recommended by dental professionals around the world for clinically proven results. Features & Benefits:
  • Ideal for short term use
  • Clinically proven, dual-action plaque control
  • Formulated with chlorhexidine digluconate (CHX) 0.12%, the gold standard for plaque control, and cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC) 0.05% which is proven to enhance the anti-plaque power of chlorhexidine
  • Alcohol-free
  • Fresh pleasant-tasting mint flavour
  • Helps reduce dental plaque accumulation
  • Helps soothe irritated, sensitive gums
  • Helps maintain healthy gums
  • Ideal pre-and post-oral surgery, tooth extraction and implant placement
How to use:
  • Use 10 ml to 15 ml twice daily for 30 seconds after brushing the teeth.
  • For best results use in conjunction with GUM Paroex Intensive Action Gel rather than regular toothpaste. When using regular toothpaste, allow 30 minutes after brushing before rinsing with GUM Paroex.
  • Recommended for short-term use. Long term use of products containing CHX (Chlorhexidine Digluconate) can sometimes cause staining of the teeth although this is temporary and can be reversed with correct tooth brushing and good oral care.
  • When used correctly the 300ml bottle should last 10 days when used twice a day. If your gum problems persist beyond 10 to 14 days please consult your dental professional.
For adult use only.

Aloclair+ Gel 8ml

R113,00
Aloclair+ assists with pain relief and promotes healing from the pain of mouth ulcers, as well as minor sores and injuries inside the mouth caused by burns, bites or newly-fitted dentures or orthodontic braces. Aloclair+ forms a protective film over sensitive nerve endings, speeding up healing and making eating, drinking and talking less painful.  Product benefits
  • Rapid relief 
  • Long-lasting 
  • Polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP) forms a protective barrier over the ulcer
  • Makes eating, drinking and talking more comfortable
  • Helps speed up healing
  • Contains anti-inflammatory Aloe vera and soothing hyaluronic acid
  • Quick, hygienic and easy to apply 
  • Alcohol-free, non-stinging, gentle
  • Ideal for individual and localised ulcers
Suitable for
  • Adults, children and babies from 2 months old
  • People with newly fitted orthodontic braces
  • Denture wearers
  • People undergoing treatment for cancer
We’ve gathered expert information on how to manage mouth ulcers, as well as causes and symptoms – read more here. Or speak to your dentist, doctor or pharmacist for expert advice.

Olgani Probiom Toothpaste 75ml

R179,00
Olgani Probiom toothpaste and tooth powder are the latest innovation from Olgani Naturals, manufacturers of ‘uncompromisingly natural’, premium oral care. The all-natural toothpaste contains live probiotics, prebiotics and a carefully selected range of active, edible ingredients for a healthy mouth and body. It is South Africa’s first toothpaste formulated with probiotics, for a healthy oral microbiome and total wellness. Probiotics are ‘good’ bacteria with well-known health benefits for the immune system and digestion. Research over the past decade has demonstrated their oral health benefits – helping prevent cavities, gum disease, fungal infections and bad breath (aka halitosis). People with healthy teeth and gums have been shown to have a robust, balanced oral microbiota. New Olgani Probiom toothpaste with lemongrass and peppermint is formulated with a multitude of healthy natural ingredients, including:
  • Probiotics Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus casei - shown to have significant oral health benefits
  • Prebiotics inulin and xanthan gum – to nourish healthy bacteria
  • Bentonite – a nourishing volcanic clay with detoxifying properties
  • Chlorella – nutrient-rich freshwater algae chlorella is said to assist with heavy metal chelation and detoxification as well as boost the immune system
  • French green clay – a mineral-rich, detoxifying natural clay with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, that may support gum tissue and help remineralise and strengthen tooth enamel
  • Fulvic acid – a source of trace minerals, prebiotics and probiotics that supports the absorption of nutrients and has potential anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and antiviral properties
  • Green tea – a potent antioxidant that has several oral health benefits
  • Lemongrass – antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory with demonstrated oral health benefits
  • Peppermint – refreshing peppermint has anti-bacterial, anti-viral and antibacterial properties and has been shown to help freshen breath
  • Wintergreen – with analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties
It does not contain fluoride, sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) or other foaming agents, glycerine, sorbitol or sweeteners, titanium dioxide or any artificial preservatives, taste enhancers or additives. It is vegan and cruelty-free.

GUM Hydral Spray 50ml

R167,00
If you suffer from dry mouth you’ll find Sunstar GUM Hydral Moisturising Spray super-convenient for on-the- go use to help alleviate dry mouth. Simply spray directly into the mouth as needed to hydrate, soothe and protect. GUM Hydral spray contains Betaine, Taurine, Sodium Hyaluronate, Sodium citrate and PVP, to moisturise, protect,soothe and promote repair. Designed for sensitive oral tissue, Hydral does not contain alcohol, parabens, Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS), glycerine, glucose, limonene or linalool. The low allergen spearmint flavour is the preferred choice of dry mouth sufferers.