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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] - Oral and Dental Management After Cancer Therapy

Routine systematic oral hygiene is important for reducing incidence and severity of oral sequelae of cancer therapy. The patient must be informed of the rationale for the oral hygiene program as well as the potential side effects of cancer chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Effective oral hygiene is important throughout cancer treatment, with emphasis on oral hygiene beginning before treatment starts.[1]

Management of patients undergoing either high-dose chemotherapy or upper-mantle radiation share selected common principles. These principles are based on baseline oral care (refer to the list of suggestions for Routine Oral Hygiene Care) and reduction of physical trauma to oral mucosa (refer to the list of Guidelines for Management of Dentures and Orthodontic Appliances in Patients Receiving High-Dose Cancer Therapy).

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Routine Oral Hygiene Care

  • Toothbrushing. Electric and ultrasonic toothbrushes are acceptable if the patient is capable of using them without causing trauma.
  • Soft nylon-bristled brush (two to three rows).
    • Brush 2 to 3 times daily with Bass sulcular scrub method.
    • Rinse frequently.
    • Foam toothbrushes:
      • Use only when use of a regular toothbrush is not feasible.
      • Use with antimicrobial rinses when routine brushing and flossing are not possible.
      • Brush teeth 2 to 3 times a day.
      • Rinse frequently.
  • Dentifrice:
    • Patient preference, as tolerated.
      • (Note: Non-mint-flavored products are typically better tolerated than mint-flavored products when oral mucositis or oral graft-versus-host disease [GVHD] is present).
    • Fluoride recommended.
    • Use 0.9% saline or water if toothpaste causes irritation.
  • Flossing:
    • Once daily.
    • Atraumatic technique with modifications as needed.
  • Bland rinses:
    • Varieties:
    • Use 8 to 12 oz of rinse, hold a mouthful, and expectorate until total volume is used; repeat every 2 to 4 hours or as needed to ameliorate discomfort.
  • Fluoride:
    • 1.1% neutral sodium fluoride gel.
    • 0.4% stannous fluoride gel.
    • Brush on gel for 2 to 3 minutes.
    • Expectorate and rinse mouth gently.
    • Apply once a day.
  • Topical antimicrobial rinses:
    • 0.12% to 0.2% chlorhexidine oral rinse for management of acute gingival lesions.
    • Povidone iodine oral rinse.
    • Rinse, hold 1 to 2 minutes, and expectorate.
    • Repeat 2 to 4 times a day, depending on severity of periodontal disease.
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