Oral care after head and neck radiotherapy

After head and neck radiotherapy, the mouth and its surrounding tissues are affected, causing problems of dry mouth and inflammation of tissues, which in turn leading to development of oral diseases like tooth decay and gum disease, therefore it is very important to keep good oral self care.

  1. Keep your teeth clean and maintain good oral health
    Tooth decay and gum disease easily occur in patient after receiving radiotherapy. In order to maintain good dental health, toothbrushing and using interdental cleansing aids e.g. dental floss, interdental toothbrush are very important. Furthermore, wiping the oral cavity with clean gauze dipped in saline can reduce the discomfort associated with the inflammation of the oral mucosa.
  2. Pay attention to the diet
    To ensure a fast recovery, a balanced diet is important to you. However after radiotherapy, the secretion of saliva will be less, so you need to choose foods which are soft and have high water content, in order to aid swallowing. You must avoid eating foods such as potato crisps which are hard and coarse, spicy and hot foods, etc., in order to avoid hurting the oral mucosa. Furthermore, you should avoid sugar-containing snacks in order to reduce the incidence of tooth decay.
  3. Using fluoride mouthwash daily
    The use of fluoride can effectively prevent tooth decay. Therefore, apart from using fluoride toothpaste every day, it is important to use a fluoride mouthwash before and after each meal, and before bed; only then can the teeth be given additional protection from tooth decay. You should consult your dentist or doctor for the suitable prescription of mouthwash.
  4. Maintaining the oral cavity moist
    You may moisten your oral cavity by sipping some water from time to time. In addition, you should stop smoking and drinking wine so that your mouth will not be further irritated and dehydrated.
  5. Care for the denture
    In order to avoid irritation to the oral mucosa, you should wear dentures for shorter time. If the inflammation of the oral mucosa is mild, then you may wear the dentures briefly during eating and when participating in social activities. The dentures should always be kept clean to prevent oral mucosal infection as a result of wearing them. While not wearing, you should still clean the denture daily, and immerse it in water to prevent it from distortion.
  6. Care for the skin
    After radiotherapy, the skin or lips may have been burnt; these areas should not be exposed to soap, any medicated cleaning agent or moisturizer. You should only use a neutral moisturizer to apply over these areas. Furthermore, you should avoid sunlight or ultra-violet light directly shining on the skin.
  7. Exercise the oral cavity
    It may be difficult to open the mouth after radiotherapy. You could do more exercise on your mouth every day by slowly opening it wide and holding for ten seconds each time. The exercise may be performed three times daily with twenty cycles, then the difficulty of opening the mouth may be reduced.
  8. Attend regular dental check- up
    At the regular dental check-up, if your oral cavity has any problem, the dentist can treat it earlier, preventing it from progressing. He would also give you advice on the effective way to clean your teeth and the products to use.

If you find any discomfort and queries during radiotherapy, please ask your doctor or dentist, they will help you. Nevertheless, if you follow the doctor's advices together with the above recommendations, the discomfort associated with the radiotherapy will be reduced to a minimum and your body will also recover quite rapidly.