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Managing Oral Complications of High-Dose Chemotherapy and / or Stem Cell Transplant

Patients who receive transplants have an increased risk of graft-versus-host disease.

Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) occurs when your tissue reacts to bone marrow or stem cells that come from a donor. Symptoms of oral GVHD include the following:

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  • Sores that are red and have ulcers, which appear in the mouth 2 to 3 weeks after the transplant.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Pain from spices, alcohol, or flavoring (such as mint in toothpaste).
  • Swallowing problems.
  • A feeling of tightness in the skin or in the lining of the mouth.
  • Taste changes.

It's important to have these symptoms treated because they can lead to weight loss or malnutrition. Treatment of oral GVHD may include the following:

  • Topical rinses, gels, creams, or powders.
  • Antifungal drugs taken by mouth or injection.
  • Psoralen and ultraviolet A (PUVA) therapy.
  • Drugs that help the salivary glands make more saliva.
  • Fluoride treatments.
  • Treatments to replace minerals lost from teeth by acids in the mouth.

Oral devices need special care during high-dose chemotherapy and/or stem cell transplant.

The following can help in the care and use of dentures, braces, and other oral devices during high-dose chemotherapy or stem cell transplant:

  • Have brackets, wires, and retainers removed before high-dose chemotherapy begins.
  • Wear dentures only when eating during the first 3 to 4 weeks after the transplant.
  • Brush dentures twice a day and rinsing them well.
  • Soak dentures in an antibacterial solution when they are not being worn.
  • Clean denture soaking cups and changing denture soaking solution every day.
  • Remove dentures or other oral devices when cleaning your mouth.
  • Continue your regular oral care 3 or 4 times a day with dentures or other devices out of the mouth.
  • If you have mouth sores, avoid using removable oral devices until the sores have healed.

Care of the teeth and gums is important during chemotherapy or stem cell transplant.

Talk to your doctor or dentist about the best way to take care of your mouth during high-dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplant. Careful brushing and flossing may help prevent infection of oral tissues. The following may help prevent infection and relieve discomfort of oral in tissues:

  • Brush teeth with a soft-bristle brush 2 to 3 times a day. Be sure to brush the area where the teeth meet the gums.
  • Rinse the toothbrush in hot water every 15 to 30 seconds to keep the bristles soft.
  • Rinse your mouth 3 or 4 times while brushing.
  • Avoid rinses that have alcohol in them.
  • Use a mild-tasting toothpaste.
  • Let the toothbrush air-dry between uses.
  • Floss according to your doctor's or dentist's directions.
  • Clean the mouth after meals.
  • Use foam swabs to clean the tongue and roof of the mouth.
  • Avoid the following:
    • Foods that are spicy or acidic.
    • "Hard" foods that could irritate or break the skin in your mouth, such as chips.
    • Hot foods and drinks.
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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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