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Oral and Dental Management After Cancer Therapy

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    Dental brushing and flossing should be performed daily under the supervision of professional staff:

    • A soft nylon-bristled toothbrush should be used 2 to 3 times a day with techniques that specifically maintain the gingival portion of the tooth and periodontal sulcus, keeping them free of bacterial plaque.
    • Rinsing the toothbrush in hot water every 15 to 30 seconds during brushing will soften the brush and reduce risk for trauma.
    • Oral rinsing with water or saline 3 to 4 times while brushing will further aid in removal of dental plaque dislodged by brushing.
    • Rinses containing alcohol should be avoided.
    • A toothpaste with a relatively neutral taste should be considered because the flavoring agents in toothpaste can irritate oral soft tissues.
    • Brushes should be air-dried between uses.
    • While disinfectants have been suggested, their routine use to clean brushes has not been proven of value.
    • Ultrasonic toothbrushes may be substituted for manual brushes if patients are properly trained in their use.

    Patients skilled at flossing without traumatizing gingival tissues may continue flossing throughout chemotherapy administration. Flossing allows for interproximal removal of dental bacterial plaque and thus promotes gingival health. As with dental brushing, this intervention should be performed under the supervision of professional staff to ensure its safe administration.

    The oral cavity should be cleaned after meals:

    • If xerostomia is present, plaque and food debris may accumulate secondary to reduced salivary function, and more frequent hygiene may be necessary.
    • Dentures need to be cleaned with denture cleanser every day and should be brushed and rinsed after meals.
    • Rinsing the oral cavity may not be sufficient for thorough cleansing of the oral tissues; mechanical plaque removal is often necessary.
    • Care must be exerted in the use of the varied mechanical hygiene aids that are available; dental floss, interproximal brushes, and wooden wedges can injure oral tissues rendered fragile by chemotherapy.
    • Toothettes have limited ability to cleanse the dentition; however, they may be useful for cleaning maxillary/mandibular alveolar ridges of edentulous areas, palate, and tongue.

    Preventing dryness of the lips to reduce risk for tissue injury is important. Mouth breathing and/or xerostomia secondary to anticholinergic medications used for nausea management can induce the condition. GVHD of the lips can also contribute to dry lips in allogeneic transplant patients. Lip care products containing petroleum-based oils and waxes can be useful. Lanolin-based creams and ointments may be more effective in moisturizing/lubricating the lips and thus protecting against trauma.

    References:

    1. Schubert MM, Peterson DE: Oral complications of hematopoietic cell transplantation. In: Appelbaum FR, Forman SJ, Negrin RS, et al., eds.: Thomas' Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation: Stem Cell Transplantation. 4th ed. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, pp 1589-1607.

    WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

    Last Updated: February 25, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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