Radiation therapy can lead to a wide variety of complications throughout your body. You probably already know that it can make your hair fall out or make you feel nauseous, but this treatment can also cause a lot of complications inside your mouth. Radiation therapy can lead to oral candidiasis, also known as thrush, a type of fungal infection caused by the candida fungi. Here are five things you need to know about oral candidiasis.
How does radiation cause oral candidiasis?
Radiation kills cancer cells, but it also has an effect on your healthy cells. If you need radiation therapy for a cancer of the head or neck, your salivary glands may be affected. This can lead to xerostomia, also known as dry mouth.
Xerostomia is a problem because saliva does much more than just moisten your mouth. One of saliva's important roles is keeping fungi and other organisms within your mouth under control. Without enough saliva, the fungi that are always present in your mouth in small amounts get the opportunity to multiply out of control. The result of this is oral candidiasis.
What are the signs of oral candidiasis?
If you have oral candidiasis, you will notice white lesions on your oral tissues. These lesions are slightly raised and look like cottage cheese. These lesions usually affect the tongue or the insides of the cheeks, but your other oral tissues, like your gums or the roof of your mouth, may also be affected.
If you rub these lesions with your finger or your toothbrush, you will notice that they bleed. The inside of your mouth may also be red or sore, and the discomfort may be severe enough to interfere with eating or swallowing. If you notice any of these symptoms while you're undergoing radiation therapy, see your dentist immediately.
Is it serious?
In rare cases, oral candidiasis can lead to more serious symptoms. If the fungus spreads from your mouth to your trachea or esophagus, you may have trouble swallowing and may experience respiratory distress. To avoid this, make sure to deal with the infection as early as possible.
How is oral candidiasis treated?
If you develop oral candidiasis during your cancer treatment, your dentist can treat the infection with prescription antifungal medication. You may be prescribed an antifungal cream or an antifungal mouth rinse. If the infection has spread past your oral cavity, you may require systemic antifungal medications. It's important to follow your dentist's directions regarding dosage and treatment time; if you stop the medication too early, your infection may come back and may be resistant to the medication used to treat it.
Can this infection be prevented?
If you are undergoing radiation therapy, your dentist can help you prevent oral candidiasis. Your dentist may prescribe antifungal medications for you to take as a precaution during your treatment. To avoid making your mouth drier, this medication may be given in the form of an oral rinse.
Keeping your mouth moist is also an important way to prevent oral candidiasis. Your dentist may tell you to sip water throughout the day to keep your mouth moist or suck on sugar-free candies to help stimulate your salivary flow.
You may also be told to use commercially available xerostomia remedies such as artificial saliva or dry mouth toothpastes. If these remedies are not enough to keep your mouth moist, your dentist may need to prescribe a medication to stimulates your salivary glands, such as pilocarpine. This medication stimulates your salivary glands and makes them produce large amounts of saliva.
If you are undergoing radiation therapy, stay alert for the signs of oral candidiasis. If you think you have the infection, see your dentist right away. For more information, you may want to contact an experienced dentist like Joe Rosenberg, DDS.
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