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Nutrition Concerns

A nutritious diet and good oral hygiene routine are important parts of maintaining a healthy life. They become especially important if you lose your health. Eating nutritious food and staying on top of your oral health in the face of illness can make all the difference. Consider these common concerns about the impact of nutrition and oral health when dealing with disease and its symptoms:

Cancer and Dental Health
Mouth Sores 
Dry Mouth and Difficulty Swallowing
Oral Care Tips

Cancer and Dental Health

Good oral care is always important but it can be especially critical when someone is being treated for cancer. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, one-third of cancer patients develop complications that affect the mouth. Chemotherapy and radiation therapies can cause issues with eating and affect your mouth in other ways, too. For example, chemotherapy treatment sometimes causes painful mouth and throat sores. More critically, since chemotherapy lowers your immunity defenses, the natural bacteria that live in your mouth can easily infect these sores. Once infected, the sores can be difficult to heal, so it’s important to do everything you can to prevent them from happening in the first place.

If you get mouth sores, try these tips to make eating easier and speed healing:

  • Eat soft or pureed foods, like mashed potatoes, pureed or cream soup, scrambled eggs, yogurt, cooked cereal, pudding and custard, cottage cheese, macaroni and cheese, and milk shakes.
  • Avoid tart, salty, spicy and acidic foods and drinks.
  • Choose cool or room temperature foods.
  • Blend and moisten dry or solid foods.
  • Drink through a straw to bypass mouth sores. 
  • Eat high protein, high calorie foods to speed up healing time. For example, add protein powder to milk shakes or powdered dry milk to fortify mashed potatoes and soups.

During cancer treatment, your mouth or throat may also become dry and irritated, or your saliva may thicken, making it difficult to swallow. To help ease the pain:

  • Drink lots of liquids to help loosen mucous.
  • Chew sugarless gum or suck on sugar-free candy to stimulate saliva production. Don’t chew ice; it can damage your teeth. 
  • Eat soft, bland foods that are either room temperature or are cold. Puree fruits and veggies, try frozen ice pops or slushies, or soft cooked chicken, beef or fish.
  • Moisten dry foods with soup, broth, gravy, butter or margarine, or sauce. Dip or soak your food in what you’re drinking.

Oral Care Tips

  • Two weeks prior to beginning chemotherapy, have your teeth cleaned and have any procedures completed, such as filling cavities, treating gum disease or fixing dentures. 
  • Brush your teeth and gums.
  • Ask your dentist about using a daily fluoride rinse to help prevent dental caries. Avoid using most mouthwashes, since they typically contain irritants like alcohol that can make mouth sores even more painful. Ask your dentist or dental hygienist for suggestions on mild mouthwash options.
  • If you develop mouth sores, tell your doctor, since you need to treat them. This is particularly important if they are keeping you from eating.
  • Visit MedlinePlus, the National Institutes of Health’s website, for more information.