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Cancer Health Center

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Oral Complications of Chemotherapy and Head/Neck Radiation (PDQ®): Supportive care - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Late Complications of Head and Neck Radiation


Finally, limited mouth opening can result in compromised oral hygiene. Patients who have undergone radiation therapy involving the salivary glands must maintain excellent oral hygiene to prevent dental caries. Deficits in oral hygiene can aggravate mucosal and dental problems, with the subsequent risk of mandibular ORN. Also, dental work and other professional oral care measures such as surgery can be made more difficult, which might even result in compromised oncologic follow-up.

The weighted prevalence of trismus with conventional radiation is estimated to be 25%, but 5% with IMRT only. Trismus prevalence in studies of chemoradiation is approximately 30%.[35]

Prevention strategies

Early treatment of trismus has the potential to prevent or minimize many of the consequences of this condition. If the clinical examination reveals the presence of limited mouth opening, and diagnosis determines the condition to be trismus, treatment should begin as soon as is practical. As restriction becomes more severe and likely irreversible, the need for treatment becomes more urgent.

Over the years, clinicians have attempted to prevent or treat trismus with a wide array of appliances. These devices include the following:

  • Cages that fit over the head.
  • Heavy springs that fit between the teeth.
  • Screws that are placed between the central incisors.
  • Hydraulic bulbs placed between the teeth.

These devices range widely in cost. Some devices, such as continuous passive motion devices, must be custom made for each patient; others are rented on a daily or weekly basis, at rates of up to several hundred dollars per week. The least expensive option is the use of tongue depressors, which has been used for many years to mobilize the jaw. A search of the literature, however, failed to reveal any studies that demonstrated significant improvement in treating trismus with tongue depressors.

Curative approach

Some therapeutic interventions seem to show some efficacy in decreasing the intensity of cancer treatment-related trismus (e.g., pentoxifylline,[36,37] Botulinum toxin,[38] exercise using the Therabite device,[39] and the Dynasplint Trismus System [40]). However, this proposed efficacy must be confirmed by randomized controlled studies, which are lacking in this area.

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