CARING FOR ORAL CANCER PATIENTS
continued on pg. 89
Psychosocial problems—Cancer patients may also suffer psychosocial problems including depression, communication challenges,
low self-esteem, and social isolation. As we treat the whole patient, be
aware of these issues so you can offer help. Know when to refer to a
psychologist and have referrals available. Be attuned to your patients’
emotional needs. Studies show that delivering health care with kindness
and empathy leads to faster healing, reduced pain, increased immune
function, lowered blood pressure, and decreased anxiety. Kindness can
increase compliance with treatment recommendations when patients
feel they are being treated with empathy. This is the time to love your
patients and treat them with your heart.
Fatigue—Many cancer patients experience extreme chronic fatigue
that may not be relieved by rest and sleep.
16 They may be simply too
fatigued to perform optimal home-care procedures. Offer, without
judgment, an alternative plan (such as the one listed below) for effective
cleaning and protection without undue effort.
• Eat BasicBites twice daily.
• Rinse mouth twice daily with CariFree C Tx4 Treatment Rinse, if
• Clean interproximally with Butler GUM Soft-Picks or TePe EasyPicks
twice daily, if possible.
Patients with cancer of the oral cavity or oropharynx may develop
recurrences or new cancers in the head and neck area or lungs. Recurrences happen most often in the first two years after treatment, so
patients are usually examined every few months during the first two
years and then less often after that. According to the NYU Oral Can-cer Center, up to 40% of oral cancer survivors experience a cancer re-
Simple mouth rinse recipe to
make at-home neutral rinse
• ¼ tsp baking soda
• ¼ tsp salt (omit for mucositis)
• 1 quart water
• Rinse every 4 hours as needed
• Do not swallow
• Dissolves thick, ropy saliva
Nutritional support for cancer patients
• Soothing to irritated tissues
• Dislodges food debris when patient can’t brush
due to low blood counts
• Neutralizes gastric acids following emesis
• Omega 3 fish oil
* Anti-inflammatory (head and neck cancer pa-
tients are obviously very inflamed)
* Promotes healing and helps maintain muscle
• Vitamin D3
* Helps strengthen immune system and fights
cancer, among other things
* Contained in cod liver oil, sardines, mackerel,
salmon, tuna, eggs, mushrooms
• Zinc may stimulate taste
• Phytonutrients (also called phytochemicals)
* Help fight cancer, support heart health, support
DNA, support the immune system, bone health,
brain health, cell health, liver function, wound
healing, gum health, lung health, eye health, etc.
* Green tea and red berries have been shown to
fight cancer cells
• Protein shakes
Choose protein powder with whey or soy if there are no
food allergies; vegetable (pea) protein powders are avail-
able for those with allergies or vegetarian preferences
Use milk, soy milk, almond milk, cashew milk, or rice milk
Add fruits or flavorings such as dark chocolate for palat-
ability and added nutrition
• Soft diet
Puree cooked meats and veggies into soups
Mash sweet potatoes
Soften and moisten foods with mild sauces and gravies
Yeast is a big problem for many oral cancer patients.
Cancer patients usually have multiple rounds of antibiotics, so probiotics are important to replenish the critically
important gut bacteria. One of my cancer patients recommends FiveLac products, which are dietary probiotics
with five important strains of probiotics to help control
Candida albicans and support healthy digestive function.
currence or develop a new cancer. Incidence rates vary depending on
the patients’ exposure to various risk factors. The risk of recurrence is
higher for people who use tobacco or drink excessive amounts of alcohol.
17 Remain vigilant and repeat head and neck cancer examinations
every time you see the patient.
Kathryn Gilliam, RDH, BA, is a practicing clinician, author, speaker,
consultant, and founder of PerioLinks, LLC. Kathryn empowers dental