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Cancer treatment can mean that even simple things like brushing your mouth in the morning take on a new significance. It is important to understand the different needs and thus specific toothpastes that are best for patients undergoing cancer treatment.

The kind of toothpaste that patients use after getting radiation treatment or being on chemotherapy is much more important than most people realize [1]. In fact, just the mere fact that a patient is even asking this question means that he or she is aware that their oral hygiene methods need to change after receiving cancer treatment and that is already a positive.

Why Do Cancer Patients Need Specially Medicated Toothpaste?

Cancer, particularly that of the head and neck region, often requires an aggressive treatment plan that involves the use of radiation, chemotherapy or both to try and destroy the tumor. This line of therapy also causes the destruction of the healthy, unaffected cells close to the tumor and in the line of the radiation, leading to the development of various side effects [2].

In the oral cavity, these side effects are manifested as a loss of salivary flow, difficulty in eating and drinking, constant ulcers in the mouth,  a burning sensation to the mildest of spices and just a massive decrease in the quality of life [3].

A lot of these side effects have further ramifications of their own, particularly the reduction in normal salivary flow. Through the temporary and sometimes permanent destruction of the salivary glands, a state of severe mouth dryness after cancer therapy occurs which means that patients have to find ways of coping with the loss of the very thing that protects their oral tissues, helps them chew, speak and swallow [4].

Without a proper amount of saliva present in the mouth, disease-causing microorganisms run rampant and cause widespread tooth decay [5]. This is why patients need to be on specially medicated toothpaste that helps protect their teeth and gums from the increased threat of disease in this condition [6].

Prevention will always be superior to treatment. However, that is even more true for patients undergoing radiation as they may not have the same treatment options on the table as other unaffected patients do [7].

What Kind Of Toothpaste Do Cancer Patients Need?

While the exact brand of toothpaste may vary from region to region and availability, every prescribed toothpaste will have one common feature and that is being very rich in fluoride content. Fluoride, which is a naturally occurring mineral, has been used as an additive to public water sources for decades now to help make teeth more resistant to tooth decay [8].

Cancer patients also often suffer from mucositis, a condition where the soft tissues inside the mouth are inflamed and become very sensitive to flavoring agents, additives and other standard ingredients of food articles.

This is why the specially medicated toothpaste for cancer patients is designed to be almost flavorless so that it does not cause any discomfort [9].

Since this toothpaste is so high in fluoride content and also because it can be quite expensive, only a small amount of toothpaste should be used to brush the teeth, similar to that of the size of a pea.

Apart from this toothpaste, patients also need to use a high concentration of fluoride gel for at least 10 minutes two times a day. This gel can either be 1.1% Sodium Fluoride gel or .4% stannous fluoride gel depending upon the formulation your dentist opts for [10].

This application is made through the use of custom trays which will help the patient apply the gel evenly on all surfaces of the teeth without any trouble.

While fluoridated toothpaste is good for preventing caries, some medicated toothpaste also contain chlorhexidine and help in the prevention of gum disease in cancer patients.

In most cases, the patient should be able to use a chlorhexidine mouthwash, but if that is too severe to the oral tissues, then a mild toothpaste containing chlorhexidine could be very beneficial.

Care also must be taken by the patient to use a toothbrush which is soft and gentle on the gums. Too often patients report to the dental clinic with the complaint that they are unable to brush because it is just too painful for them.

In some cases, the dentist may prescribe the use of a topical anesthetic agent to numb the pain and allow the patient to brush without too much discomfort.

Conclusion

In typical cases, the physical act of brushing is sufficient to keep the mouth disease free, and so the role of the toothpaste is minimized. In cancer patients, particularly those that have received radiation, the role of chemical plaque control becomes very important.

Patients need to be educated on the importance of oral care during cancer treatment so that they can prevent dental diseases from setting in.

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