I went to the dentist today for a cleaning. You’re saying, “Hey, this is a cancer blog, not a ‘what did you do today’ blog!” But I promise, it’s related; bear with me! My next dental cleaning appointment was not scheduled until September. But during Chemo 101, I was told not to go to the dentist while undergoing chemo, and that instead I should be sure to go prior to starting chemo. So, yippee, lucky me, I get to go to the dentist 2 months early.
It turns out that chemo does a number on your mouth. Firstly, your saliva glands count as one of the “fast growing cells” (along with hair cells) that chemo targets. The result is a dry mouth with an altered pH. This can further result in mouth sores. The oncology nurse had recommended a rinse called Biotene. I’d never heard of this before and had not gotten around to Googling it, so it was good to be able to discuss this with Lisa, my dental hygienist, today, who explained that Biotene contains a chemical (primarily Xylitol) that “moisturizes” your mouth. And she gave me a bunch of free samples, score!
Additionally, mouth and gum injuries will heal more slowly during chemo, and all cuts are more prone to infection due to the suppression of the immune system. For this reason the oncology nurse had recommended against flossing. Lisa, my dentist, and I discussed this. The three of us agreed that since I’m a regular flosser (GOLD STAR FOR ME!!!), there really should not be that much bleeding, so I’ll try to keep flossing during chemo and see how it goes.
All of this can end up being really important during chemo, because if your mouth is super dry, and has sores, you’re not going to want to eat. This, on top of nausea and other appetite-suppressing side effects of chemo, can result in poor nutrition – just when you need it most. I came away from my appointment today not only with nice clean teeth, but also lot of tools to help me manage all these issues: Biotene samples; soft picks; instructions for a baking soda/salt rinse; a special non-alcohol-based peroxide rinse; recommendations for what kind of toothpaste to use; and strong encouragement to buy myself a water pick.
I’m smugly proud of myself for taking care of this ahead of time, especially since the suggestion was really just a passing comment from the oncology nurse amidst a firehose of information. This is yet one more example of how much project management seems to be required to get through this Divine Comedy!