Mucositis is a common, yet painful complication of chemotherapy. Children with this complication experience inflammation of their oral tissues. Here are five things that parents need to know about chemotherapy and mucositis.
What are the signs of mucositis?
About five to 10 days after starting chemotherapy, your child may start to complain about changes inside their mouth. Generally, the insides of the cheeks are affected, but other tissues, like the tongue and the lips, can also be affected. At first, your child will complain that their tissues feel sore and burnt, but later, white patches will form. Ulcers (open sores) may also form on the tissues, and when this happens, your child will have trouble eating or talking without pain.
Parents may notice other symptoms, as well. For example, some children with mucositis develop dry mouth, so you may see your child drinking more often. Other children develop very bad breath that is noticeable to their family and friends. If you notice these signs, take your child to a dentist right away.
Why does it occur?
Chemotherapy works by targeting and destroying rapidly dividing cells. Cancer cells divide rapidly, which is why chemotherapy works, but many other cells in the body also divide rapidly. The cells that line the insides of the mouth fall into this category, which is why chemotherapy has such a serious effect on them.
What problems can it cause?
Mucositis makes your child's mouth sore, but this condition can have more serious effects than just discomfort. If your child isn't able to eat or drink due to pain, they may be at risk of becoming dehydrated or malnourished. Malnutrition is a big problem because it makes chemotherapy less effective.
Mucositis can also make it harder for your child to keep their teeth clean as brushing and flossing will be painful. This can lead to tooth decay. Tooth decay may seem like it's not a big deal for young children, but this early decay can lead to chewing problems and later, misaligned permanent teeth.
The ulcers associated with mucositis may also become infected. Aside from being painful, these infections can spread to other parts of the body, leading to further problems. Fortunately, these problems can be avoided by having your child's mucositis treated promptly.
How do dentists treat it?
According to the NHS, mucositis associated with chemotherapy tends to go away three to four weeks after the treatment is finished, but in the meantime, your child's dentist can offer many treatments to help manage the condition. Your child may be given a mouth rinse that contains lidocaine or morphine to control their pain. They may also be given an antiseptic mouth rinse to keep their ulcers from becoming infected.
Your child's dentist can also recommend alternative oral hygiene methods. If a regular toothbrush is too painful, a sponge toothette may be used to clean the teeth. Gargling with a saltwater and baking soda solution may also help to keep your child's mouth clean until they can brush normally again.
Your child's dentist may recommend making changes to your child's diet. You may be told to prepare foods that don't require chewing, like mashed potatoes or pudding. Spicy or sour foods should be avoided until your child recovers, so try to feed your family a bland diet until your child is feeling better.
How common is mucositis?
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, as many as 40% of people who receive chemotherapy will develop mucositis. Since it's so common, parents need to be prepared to help their children deal with the complication.
If your child has a sore mouth following chemotherapy treatments, they may have mucositis. This complication can be serious, so make sure to talk to your oncologist and your child's dentist.
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