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If you are fighting cancer and dealing with oral health issues, such as mouth sores, you are not alone. Oral mucositis is an oral health complication that can result from cancer itself or from its treatment.
Oral problems are common in people with cancer, particularly head and neck cancers. Most head and neck cancers begin in the cells that line the mucosal surfaces in the head and neck area (i.e., nasal cavity, sinuses, lips, mouth, salivary glands, throat, or voice box). In addition, cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, can contribute to oral complications.
Oral mucositis is an inflammation of mucous membranes inside the mouth. The mucous membranes become reddened, swollen and painful. For some, oral mucositis can lead to mouth sores, or small cuts and/or ulcers in the mouth, gums, or on the tongue. The sores may be bright red or have small white patches in the middle.
In addition to oral mucositis, there are other oral health problems that can develop from cancer and/or its treatment. Dry mouth, or xerostomia, (which can also lead to oral mucositis) occurs when the salivary glands do not produce enough saliva. Symptoms of xerostomia may include thick or stringy saliva, taste changes, cracked lips, sore tongue, and/or changes in your ability to speak clearly.
Also, pain or difficulty swallowing, or dysphagia, is another complication. Symptoms of dysphagia may include the following: pain while swallowing, inability to swallow, choking or coughing while eating, a sensation of food getting stuck in the throat, and soreness, pain and/or swelling in the throat or mouth.
A serious oral health complication which can result from a high dose of radiation to the mandible (lower jaw) is called osteoradioneucrosis. Osteoradionecrosis occurs when the supporting bone around the teeth loses vitality as a result of radiation therapy to the head and neck region.
The following are possible causes of oral mucositis, or mouth sores:
If you are receiving chemotherapy, mucositis may occur three to 10 days following treatment and heal by itself within two to four weeks. Mucositis caused by radiation therapy sometimes lasts six to eight weeks or longer, depending on the treatment regime.
The side effects of cancer and its treatment, such as mouth sores, can significantly impact your quality of life. Mouth sores can be painful and make it difficult to chew, swallow and talk. These difficulties can lead to poor nutrition, weight loss and dehydration.
When oral mucositis becomes severe, it can also cause bleeding or infection. Cancer and its treatment can weaken the immune system and damage the cells lining the mouth, making you more susceptible to infections in the mouth. In addition, chemotherapy drugs may affect the ability of blood to clot and cause bleeding.
Furthermore, dry mouth can cause additional complications. Since saliva is needed for chewing, tasting, swallowing, and speech, dry mouth can cause difficulty when talking and eating. Saliva also helps to neutralize acid in the mouth and clean the teeth and gums, thereby helping to prevent infection, mouth sores, tooth decay, and gum disease.
Thus, good oral health, including the management of mouth sores, plays an important role during cancer treatment. Sometimes oral mucositis can become severe enough that it is necessary to modify or delay your treatment so your mouth can heal. By learning good oral hygiene, you can help decrease the severity of mouth sores and other problems.
If mucositis occurs, oral care is based on several patient-specific factors, including cancer type, treatment regime, and symptoms. Aside from the help your health care team provides, there are some things you can do to manage mouth sores and maintain oral health.
NOTE: THIS INFORMATION IS NOT INTENDED NOR IMPLIED TO BE A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL ADVICE. YOU SHOULD ALWAYS REPORT ANY ORAL HEALTH CONCERNS TO YOUR PHYSICIAN OR DENTIST IMMEDIATELY.
NOTE: THIS INFORMATION IS NOT INTENDED NOR IMPLIED TO BE A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL ADVICE. ALWAYS SEEK THE ADVICE OF YOUR PHYSICIAN OR OTHER QUALIFIED HEALTH CARE PROVIDER REGARDING ANY ORAL COMPLICATIONS YOU MAY BE EXPERIENCING.
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