Importance of Dental Hygiene for Mesothelioma Patients

mouth_smallCancer therapies often result in xerostomia (dry mouth), a condition that can lead to increased risk of infection and cavities. Bacteria in the mouth are kept in check by saliva, which is a crucial fist line of defense in maintaining good oral health. When there isn’t enough saliva produced, or the amount available isn’t enough to clear infection-causing bacteria, it is possible to develop sores and excoriated tissue. Dry mouth is also a causative factor of malodorous breath and cavities, as food particles are not cleared away as quickly as they would be in a well-hydrated state.

Symptoms of dry mouth include stringy saliva, cracked or dry lips, difficulty speaking, and a burning sensation. When the mouth becomes too dry, chewing and swallowing are affected and may increase the risk of aspiration pneumonia, a life-threatening condition for at-risk cancer patients.

In mesothelioma patients, xerostomia is most often caused by chemotherapy, but lack of hydration and sometimes radiation can also be the culprits.

Xerostomia can be treated with medications to stimulate the production of saliva or with over-the-counter chewing gum and mouthwashes, depending on the severity.

Scheduling a dentist appointment before initiation of chemotherapy is a good practice to follow in order to identify and correct any dental conditions. Once chemotherapy has begun, patients should  brush 3 to 4 times daily, as vomiting and acid reflux are known to erode dental enamel. During this period, fluid intake should also be increased and gentle flossing should be continued. If platelets become low, patients should discontinue flossing until advised to resume.

It is important for mesothelioma patients to schedule regular dental check-ups. Because some dental interventions should not be performed when a patient is at a high risk for infection or bleeding, patients should inform their dentists if they are receiving chemotherapy treatments.