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Julie Wilkinson, BSN, RN

TLC for Your Mouth

By February 28, 2013

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Image Dana Rothstein/Dreamstime

If you are currently taking chemotherapy for colon cancer, your medical team probably informed you about the importance of good oral hygiene. It sounds innocuous, but taking cautious care of your mouth can make a huge difference in your treatment and comfort.

Recently, a friend of mine had a trifecta of mouth problems during her second round of chemotherapy. She had developed thrush (an oral yeast infection), mouth sores, and bleeding gums. Basically, everything that could go wrong in her mouth did. She was uncomfortable to say the least, couldn't tolerate food or liquid, and lost so much weight that her chemotherapy was put on hold.

Of course, this is a worst-case-scenario, but a wake-up call nonetheless. Although I always teach my patients about the importance of oral care, I began diligently researching the best ways to prevent mouth problems before, during and after chemotherapy. Most importantly, I've picked up pearls from colon cancer survivors and here's some of their collected wisdom in a nutshell:

  • Purchase a soft-bristled toothbrush and toss the old one. Not only can a toothbrush collect germs, hard (and even medium) bristle brushes can make your gums bleed.
  • Suck on ice chips throughout your intravenous chemotherapy session. Purportedly, this may help prevent mouth sores before they start.
  • Rinse your mouth with warm saltwater after eating or drinking anything.
  • Report any sores or mouth pain to your doctor immediately - he or she can order prescriptions to increase your comfort and maintain your ability to eat and drink.
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