What is Oral Mucositis?
Though there are a considerable number of unpleasant side effects linked to chemotherapy, oral mucositis still manages to top many patients’ lists for a very simple reason: it is an incredibly uncomfortable condition that interferes in everyday life. The loss of hair may be more visible, nausea more persistent, but the sores and inflammation that characterize oral mucositis affects a patient’s quality of life so intensely and on so many fronts that it can have wide-ranging implications for a patient’s overall health and treatment schedule.
But what exactly causes oral mucositis, and how can it be stopped?
What Causes Oral Mucositis in Chemotherapy Patients?
Chemotherapy drugs are used to eliminate cancer because they are very effective at targeting cells that divide quickly – a key characteristic of cancer. Chemotherapy causes oral mucositis in cancer patients. Unfortunately, these drugs often fail to distinguish friend from foe, attacking healthy tissue and cancerous tissue alike. That means the healthy cells that grow rapidly like the cells in the mouth, hair, nails, and bone marrow, are vulnerable to these toxic chemicals. That’s why hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy treatments; it’s also the reason why sores form in the mouth after chemo.
As the chemotherapy drugs circulate through the body, passing through blood vessels on their way to their target, they eventually reach the mouth and often begin breaking down the mucous membranes that line the cheeks, tongue, and other areas. This attack causes the development of painful sores, bleeding, and inflammation that together constitute oral mucositis.
What is the Cost of Oral Mucositis?
The cost of oral mucositis can be enormous. A 2009 study published in the journal Dental Clinics of North America looked at the medical and economic impact of oral mucositis and found that the more severe the symptoms, the longer patients spent in the hospital, the longer they needed to be on IV nutrition and narcotic painkillers, and the greater their risk of serious infections or death.
In total, these complications can cost a patient as much as $25,000, according to the study – and that’s on top of the already intimidating medical bills that tend to accompany the initial cancer treatments. For patients, this means that preventing and treating oral mucositis is more than a matter of comfort; it has medical and financial implications as well.
Signs and Symptoms of Oral Mucositis
Oral mucositis is a very common side effect of chemotherapy treatments, occurring in as many as 80% of high-dose chemotherapy patients (Source). Its symptoms are easily recognizable, usually featuring sores and ulcers in the mouth, difficulty swallowing or speaking, swelling, inflammation, and even possible infections. The combined weight of these effects often forces a patient to stop or limit eating and drinking, sometimes even necessitating a feeding tube or IV.
In especially severe cases, patients must delay subsequent treatments due to the direct effects of the mucositis or the danger posed by associated weight loss. These delays can hinder patients’ recovery and hurt their overall prognosis, two things that any patient would want to avoid at all costs. Not only are these effects frustrating in the extreme, but they can also lead to longer periods of hospitalization and an increase in medical bills that are already sure to be considerable.
Common Oral Mucositis Treatments for Cancer Patients
Oral Cryotherapy (Cold-therapy)
Studies have shown that during chemotherapy, cold therapy, or oral cryotherapy is effective at limiting the amount of drug that reaches the mouth. These studies have reported that ice cryotherapy is effective in the “reduction or lack of chemotherapy-induced mouth blisters, (and) pain.”
Take Care of Your Teeth
A good oral healthcare routine goes a long way when it comes to the management of oral mucositis in patients with cancer. Get in the habit of brushing and rinsing your mouth often. Keeping your mouth clean and mouth tissue moist helps to prevent infection through open mouth sores.
Avoid acidic, spicy, and crunchy foods, and also avoid alcohol and tobacco use.
Talk to Your Doctor About Mouth Sore History
If you have a history of recurring mouth sores, be sure to let your doctor know. Patients with recurring mouth sores from herpes simplex virus may be prescribed antivirals during chemotherapy treatment to help avoid those mouth sores during treatment.
Visit a Dentist
If possible, before starting your chemotherapy treatment, visit your dentist and take care of any dental issues like gum disease or cavities. Any pain or infections in your mouth will only get worse when your cancer treatment begins.
One of the simplest and most accessible treatments for chemotherapy-induced oral mucositis is a saltwater mouthwash; just add one tablespoon of salt to one quart of water for a proper mixture.
Rinsing out your mouth regularly with this solution can help keep your sores free of debris and bacteria, aiding the fight against infection while slightly reducing pain and inflammation. The addition of baking soda to your mouthwash can also be helpful because baking soda can neutralize the mouth’s natural acidity and relieve some of the pain generated by the sores.
How Does Cryotherapy Prevent Chemotherapy-induced Oral Mucositis?
Oncology nurses throughout the country distribute ice chips and popsicles to their patients during chemo treatments, employing cryotherapy to try and reduce mouth sore symptoms. The thinking behind this is simple: by applying ice to the inside of the mouth, the blood vessels are forced to shrink (vasoconstriction), which in turn allows less of the chemotherapy drugs to reach the area.
Though the theory is sound – several studies have shown cryotherapy to be a promising preventative measure against mucositis – the use of ice chips and popsicles represents an imperfect application of this principle. Ice chips, for instance, tend to sit at the bottom of the mouth or around the sides of the tongue, and popsicles likewise affect only a limited area. This leaves much of the mouth’s sensitive tissues vulnerable to the toxic chemotherapy drugs. Cryotherapy is one of the best ways to prevent or treat oral mucositis caused by chemotherapy.
How does the Chemo Mouthpiece™ Work?
The Chemo Mouthpiece™ is an intraoral ice pack specifically designed to address this issue. By using an ice-cold chemo sore mouthpiece that effectively cools the entire oral cavity uniformly, patients can now gain the benefits of cryotherapy throughout their entire palate. Plus, the device is extremely simple and easy to use; just freeze it at home for 6 hours upon receiving your Patient Kit and it’s ready.
Around that core, there is an outer section filled with saltwater, which can reach freezing temperatures without solidifying. Two tubes run through the center of the device to facilitate comfortable breathing while it is in use. Simply put the end of the Chemo Mouthpiece™ in your mouth during chemotherapy treatments and let it effectively chill your entire oral cavity, significantly reducing the severity of any oral mucositis in the process.
Innovative, Easy-to-Use Device to Combat Oral Mucositis During Chemotherapy
The Chemo Mouthpiece™ was invented by someone with firsthand experience dealing with oral mucositis, an engineer and cancer survivor named David Yoskowitz who knew there had to be a better way to deal with this debilitating issue. This device is simple, effective, and easy to use, whether you are at home or at your infusion. It even comes with an insulated cooler for convenient transportation. Learn more about our device or shop Chemo Mouthpiece™.