Oral Mucositis is the painful inflammation and ulceration of the mucous membranes lining your mouth and throat. It is usually, though not always, a result of chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer.
The parts of your mouth that are most likely to be affected are your tongue, and the insides of your cheeks and lips. The severity of the mucositis experienced can range from mild to severe. In mild cases, the sores may be small and cause some discomfort. In more severe cases, the sores are large, widespread, and very painful.
The pain is often described as a burning sensation and you may have difficulty speaking, eating, or even opening your mouth.
Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy usually become symptomatic for mucositis four to five days after beginning treatment, reaching a peak at around day 10, and then slowly improving over the course of a few weeks. Mucositis associated with radiation therapy usually appears at the end of the second week of treatment and may last for six to eight weeks.
Risk Factors for Mucositis
Chemotherapy and radiation to the head and neck are the biggest risk factors for developing oral mucositis, but there are several other significant risk factors to consider.
These include poor oral hygiene and poor dental health. The consumption of alcohol, the use of tobacco products (including chewing tobacco) and smoking are also considered risk factors related to their effect on salivary output. Reduced saliva or dry mouth allows more oral bacteria to survive and multiply.
Diabetes, kidney disease, and HIV/AIDS also affect oral health as a manifestation of their effect on your immune system.
Reducing Risk in Advance of Cancer Therapy
While most head and neck cancer patients will experience some degree of mucositis during treatment, this risk can be reduced by ensuring that all dental problems have been addressed before the start of therapy.
The first step is to get a referral to a dentist who is experienced working with cancer patients and have an oral exam. If any dental issues are discovered, make sure that your treatment for these issues is completed 4-6 weeks before undergoing radiation therapy.
Side Effects of Mucositis
Here are a couple potential side effects of Mucositis that you should be aware of.
Increased Risk of Infection
Sores or ulcerations can become sites of infection by viruses, bacteria, or fungi and act as a portal of entry for oral flora that, in some instances, may cause septicemia (especially in immunosuppressed patients).
Pain, mucus, thick saliva, and too much or too little saliva can make eating and drinking difficult or impossible.
"Taste blindness” or an altered sense of taste may also occur. This is a temporary reflection of changes to the taste buds due to the mucositis, though sometimes only partial recovery of taste occurs. The most common complaints are of food tasting too sweet or too bitter or of a continuous metallic taste.
Poor nutrition can slow the healing of the sores and make it harder to fight the cancer and/or recover from treatment. If eating is too painful, a temporary feeding tube may be best until your symptoms clear up.
What to Eat While Managing Oral Mucositis During and After Treatment
Once oral mucositis begins, making well-informed eating and drinking choices can help relieve pain and symptoms. To reduce pain and discomfort while eating, choose foods that soothe the mouth such as cold foods like popsicles, frozen fruit, and ice cream. You can also have soft, mild foods such as cottage cheese, smoothies, and yogurt.
You should always drink liquid through a straw to avoid sore spots and stay away from foods that could irritate your mouth or promote bacterial growth such as citrusy foods like fruit, tomatoes, peppers, and vinegar. You also want to avoid spicy foods, as well as crunchy or hard foods such as crusty bread, pretzels, and chips.
It is also recommended that you stay away from alcohol and carbonated drinks, and make sure to drink plenty of hydrating fluids.
Daily Oral Care
It is important to take good daily care of your mouth, especially during radiation treatment and if mucositis develops.
You will need to brush your teeth gently at least twice a day. It helps keep the mouth moisturized, and it helps prevent infection. Some patients find it helpful to brush every four hours and at bedtime. Use a mild-tasting toothpaste with prescription-strength fluoride and brush with a soft-bristle toothbrush, and floss gently once a day.
You should also rinse your mouth frequently to prevent infection but avoid mouthwashes that contain alcohol. Rinse your mouth before, after meals, and at bedtime.
If you wear dentures, remove them whenever possible so that your gums are exposed to the air. If your gums are sore, only wear your dentures while eating and if your sores are severe, do not wear dentures at all.
Finally, do not forget to use lip balm or moisturizer to keep your lips moist.
Fight Oral Mucositis with LIVFRESH Dental Gel
Oral Mucositis can be a very uncomfortable condition, but as we have just discussed, regularly brushing your teeth with the right oral hygiene products can bring relief. You can find those right oral hygiene products in LIVFRESH dental gels. Try them today and find relief from Mucositis.