Your dentist should be part of the medical team you rely on during treatment for breast cancer. He or she can assist you in preventing or minimizing any potential dental problems that might arise in response to chemotherapy, and help to ensure you’ll be smiling beautifully after you conclude treatment.
Most professionals advise women to have a dental checkup at least two weeks – and preferably a month or more – before they begin chemotherapy. Check with your oncologist for guidance. Getting a checkup before your treatment starts helps to address any existing dental issues that could put additional stress on your immune system. Also, your mouth may feel a bit sensitive from the chemotherapy and if so you’ll be more comfortable getting dental care before you begin treatment.
Maintain good oral hygiene during your treatment, your immune system doesn’t need any additional battles to wage right now. You may want to switch to a very soft tooth brush, and you will probably feel more comfortable using a gentle mouthwash without any alcohol in it – your mouth may be dry and irritated. Some professionals advise rinsing your mouth with a ¼ teaspoon each of baking soda and salt in one quart of warm water, follow with a plain water rinse, instead of commercial mouthwashes which tend to dry the mouth. Check with your dentist to see what home care routine is best for you.
Your dentist may ask you to come in for checkups during your treatment to guard against opportunistic oral infections that could make it difficult for you to swallow and eat comfortably. These tend to be easy to address once diagnosed. You should check-in with your dentist if you experience:
- Bleeding and/or swelling of the gums
- Pain of the teeth or gums
- Pronounced dryness of your mouth
- Difficulty swallowing
- Inability to taste food, or unusual changes in your ability to taste
Do make sure that your dentist knows that you will be beginning treatment for breast cancer. Your dentist and oncologist may want to consult with each other to develop a dental health plan.
If you wear dentures make sure to let your treatment team know. They may advise you to come in for treatment without your dentures, or to not wear them during specific times during the course of your chemotherapy. If your dentures don’t fit right, or aren’t comfortable, let your dentist know. It’s important to have anything that might irritate your mouth addressed before you begin treatment.
Your dentist may advise you to use fluoride rinses to help ward off tooth decay. He or she may also suggest you try lozenges or other products containing xylitol if dry mouth is making you uncomfortable. Good oral hygiene will help you be more comfortable during chemotherapy and can help ward off infections that could complicate your treatment plan.