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November was a rather busy month for awareness days, weeks and months, and whilst it’s a couple of days late, the following blog recognizes Mouth Cancer Action Month. Here’s one of our Ask An Expert dentists, Judith and Lynsey, to share with you some information and tips on coping with mouth cancer.
Mouth problems are a common side effect of head and neck cancer and its treatment. Getting support from a dental professional early in the process can really help to minimise discomfort and improve your quality of life.
Before treatment – get a specialist assessment:
If you’ve been diagnosed with head and neck cancer, you will likely be referred to a specialist clinic for a full dental assessment before treatment starts. This clinic will likely continue seeing you during and after treatment.
At the assessment, your dentist will:
You should also keep attending your local dentist as they will be able to offer support as well. You should tell the dentist about your diagnosis, what medications you are taking and your proposed treatment dates.
During treatment – good mouth hygiene tips:
Invasive dental treatment should be avoided if possible during cancer treatment, but if treatment is required your dentist will consider how this is best delivered. They will most likely liaise with your oncology team to work out the best time during your treatment to have any urgent dental work done. A dental professional should support you to help prevent any causes of infection and ensure your mouth is kept healthy and clean.
Common side effects:
You should carry on having regular check-ups with a dental professional after treatment. This will allow support for the management of side effects and to pick up any dental disease and provide treatment if required.
Prevention of dental decay:
If you had radiotherapy in this area, then you will remain at high risk of dental decay afterwards. Your dentist will advise on prevention strategies suitable for you which may include:
After radiotherapy to the jaws, the blood supply to the bone is reduced. This may lead to parts of the jaw bone dying. This is known as osteoradionecrosis (ORN). Symptoms include pain, swelling, numbness, loose teeth, a discharge or a break in the lining of the mouth (mucosa). If you develop any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek advice from your doctor or dentist. To reduce your risk of developing ORN:
Coping with a dry mouth:
Dry mouth (xerostomia) can happen during treatment with some types of chemotherapy, but usually returns to normal at the end of treatment. Dry mouth post-radiotherapy tends to be longer-lasting and problematic. There are a few different methods that can help – it’s a good idea to try different ones and see which works for you. Some are available over the counter and some are prescription only.
Caring for your mouth is an essential part of your head and neck cancer therapy. Keeping your mouth clean and healthy will make things more comfortable and help to make your cancer journey a little bit easier.
If you have any concerns a member of your oncology team will be more than happy to give you some advice.
Please feel free to visit our Ask An Expert section and ask any further questions that you might have about mouth cancers – our professionals are more than happy to help. If you're affected by a head and neck cancer, you might also like to visit our head and neck cancer group.
This article makes no mention of coping with incurable head/mouth cancer and its effect on day-to-day living.I have an obturator which I remove when cleaning my teeth and after meals I give it a rinse, when possible, to remove food particles that would otherwise irritate. The obturator itself dates from 2012 and has recently become less of a good fit due to physical changes within my mouth, including movement of my upper front teeth.The cancer has also invaded my nose airways and these are totally blocked, so I must breathe through my mouth at all times. Not a problem except when eating (I get quite breathless) and sleeping (dry mouth).
As well as the blocked airways, my nose is being forced sideways and this contributes to the general pain experience. My left eye had to be evicerated to ease pressure there.
Pain management is the only thing available to me now, having only ever had surgery in the past... surgery now is not an option due to the dangers and the deformation it would cause with little or no benefit in terms of prognosis.
My Macmillan blog is at https://community.macmillan.org.uk/members/thomas255/blogs
Overall, I find Macmillan guidance tends to shy away from incurables which is a shame, given the number of us.
I’m one of the Senior Cancer Information Nurses on the Macmillan Support Line. Thanks for your feedback. I wanted to let you know we have recognised that we need to develop more information and support for people with cancer that is incurable. This is a priority written into our Macmillan 5 year strategy. I’ve passed your comments on to our Information Development Team to support this work going forward.
We are here at the end of the phone, or by email, if talking things through with us could help in anyway.
KimSenior Macmillan Information NurseMacmillan Support Line
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