Head Neck Cancer patients and survivors have a plethora of unique healthcare needs both immediate and long-term. One vital component throughout any HNC journey is maintaining proper oral care. Many people might assume that simply flossing, brushing, and rinsing your mouth out in the morning and evening before bed is enough. However, for HNC patients and survivors there is a bit more involved.
In pursuit of professional advice, I reached out to my friend Jill Meyer-Lippert, Founder, of Side Effect Support, LLC. Jill is a registered dental hygienist and the 2014 recipient of the Sunstar Americas/RDH Award of Distinction and a member of several dental and cancer-related organizations, including the Registered Dental Hygienist Advisory Board for the Oral Cancer Foundation, Teethcloud Thought Leaders, Wisconsin Cancer Collaborative, and the Triage Cancer Speakers Bureau. Based on her extensive professional background the following interview highlights Jill’s oral care tips for HNC patients:
Why is oral care important for HNC patients and survivors?
Jill explained, “Oral health challenges are common with treatments used for many types of cancers. This is especially true for people with head and neck cancers. The intensity of the oral side effects can have a significant impact on the patient’s quality of life, affecting their physical, emotional, and financial well-being. Oral health challenges are especially common for people with head and neck cancers. Healthy saliva aids in healing oral tissue reduces the risk of infection, maintains a stable pH level in the mouth, and assists in the remineralization process of teeth. Treatments for head and neck cancers often cause Dry Mouth, which increases risks for oral health problems.”
What is Dry Mouth?
Jill said, “Depending on the severity of the condition, dry mouth complaints can include: Difficulties with eating, increased cavities, infections in the mouth, pain and discomfort, the feeling of choking, restless sleep, self-esteem issues, strained social interactions, and expensive dental treatment needs. Although saliva tends to return to normal after chemotherapy has been completed, radiation can permanently damage the salivary glands, which can change the amount of saliva produced in the mouth and its quality, which may lead to dry mouth and has important implications for our health.
A dry mouth is much more than just a comfort issue and can affect our overall health. Healthy saliva has many protective effects that promote the digestive process, help the taste buds function properly, and lubricate the oral tissue to prevent tissue trauma and assist in swallowing and speaking. Healthy saliva also aids in healing the oral tissue (inside the mouth), reduces the risk of infection (bacterial, viral, or fungal), maintains a stable pH level in the mouth, and plays a role in the remineralization process of the teeth, to keep them strong.”
What tips do you have to maintain a high level of oral care?
She concluded, “Stay hydrated! It is extremely important in maintaining oral health. Drink lots of water and avoid caffeine and alcohol. Be aware that not all oral care and dry mouth products are good for your teeth. Avoid certain ingredients such as alcohol, tartar control, and whitening agents. Be sure that your dentist and other dental providers are aware of your cancer diagnosis and treatment plan.
As a Registered Dental Hygienist of nearly 30 years, I know how confusing it can be for patients when selecting oral care products, and how important it is to find trusted resources for recommendations. That is why I created the online resource, Side Effect Support website (https://sideeffectsupport.com), to provide easy access to information, virtual dental care with licensed dentists, and oral hygiene supplies that have been deemed appropriate for the unique needs of patients with cancer, caregivers, and healthcare providers to reduce harmful oral side effects of treatments and improve quality-of-life and treatment outcomes for patients.”
I hope Jill’s insights for proper oral care are helpful! For additional information, you can view Jill’s Side Effects Support Brochure here: https://acrobat.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:c6494a05-863c-304e-b462-9ded1bd71995