You probably know by now that chemotherapy targets rapidly dividing cancer cells. Unfortunately, some normal cells also divide rapidly and are affected. Specifically in this section, we’ll talk about the effects of chemo on the rapidly dividing cells in your mouth and throat.
What Causes Mouth Problems?
Mouth SoresFirst, chemotherapy can cause sores in your mouth and throat. You may hear these sores referred to as mucositis, stomatitis, or mouth ulcers. Secondly, mouth sores may become infected by the many germs that live in your mouth, especially if your white blood count is low. You may also experience a sense of dryness in your mouth, making it difficult to swallow. Mouth problems can make it very painful to eat and drink. For many teens, mouth pain can be the most painful side effect of cancer treatment.
“What Can I Do?”
You might be able to prevent mouth sores from developing with good oral hygiene. Here are some tips:
Visit the dentist before you start chemo.
When your counts go down, it will be difficult to have dental care.
Use a soft bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.
Brushing your teeth often – but gently – will not only keep your teeth and mouth clean, it will get rid of some of the nasty tastes of certain chemo drugs. Rinse your toothbrush well and store it in a dry place to prevent germs from growing.
Ask your medical team to suggest a mild or medicated mouthwash.
These are the things to look for:
Despite all these precautions, you might still develop some problems.
- Sores or raw areas
- White spots or patches
- Pain in your mouth or throat
- Unusual bleeding, usually around your gums
If you notice any of these symptoms, here are some ideas to help you cope:
If you weren’t using one already, you may need to start using an antibacterial mouthwash.
Ask your medical team to recommend one of several different kinds. But beware – none of them tastes great. Use it anyway. The bad taste doesn’t even come close to the pain of bad mouth sores.
Most hospitals will have soft, foam brushes for your use.
You can still keep your mouth clean without dealing with rough bristles.
Ask your medical team for medication to treat the problem.
There may be something you can put directly on the sores to ease the pain. As with all available meds, don’t be afraid to ask. That’s what they’re for!
Eating may become difficult if your mouth is really sore.
Try eating soft foods like ice cream, milkshakes, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, etc. Avoid acidic, spicy, or rough foods. Don’t try to eat a hard shell taco supreme!
If eating becomes really tough, you may need some extra IV nutrition known as TPN.
TPN=Total Parenteral Nutrition This will keep you healthy until your counts come back up and your mouth heals.