Chemotherapy is a commonly used cancer treatment, but it is not without side effects. You probably already know that chemotherapy can lead to hair loss, but you may not know that chemotherapy can also affect your mouth. Chemotherapy can lead to thrombocytopenia, a condition that may have serious effects on your oral health. Here are four things that chemotherapy patients need to know about thrombocytopenia.
What is thrombocytopenia?
Thrombocytopenia is a condition characterized by a low platelet count. Your platelets are a type of cell that help your blood clot, so if you don't have enough platelets, you will bleed easily, and the bleeding will be harder to stop.
If you have this condition, you will notice that you bruise easily, and if you cut yourself, you will bleed for longer than you used to. The condition can also lead to unexplained bleeding from your nose or gums. People with this condition may also become jaundiced or fatigued, and your spleen may also become enlarged.
How does chemotherapy cause it?
Chemotherapy works by targeting and destroying cells that grow rapidly. Cancer cells grow rapidly, but so do some of your healthy cells. The cells within your bone marrow that produce platelets grow rapidly, so chemotherapy treatments may mistake them for cancer cells and destroy them. When these cells are destroyed, less platelets are produced, and thrombocytopenia is the result.
How does thrombocytopenia affect your oral health?
If you have thrombocytopenia, it can be very hard for you to keep up your oral hygiene routine. Brushing your teeth or flossing your teeth may lead to bleeding that doesn't stop on its own, and this can make it difficult or even impossible to keep your teeth clean.
If you aren't able to clean your teeth, plaque, a bacteria-filled film that constantly develops inside your mouth, will remain on your teeth. This plaque will harden into calculus (or tartar) in as little as 24 hours, and once it has hardened, it will be impossible for you to remove at home. Calculus can only be removed with professional cleaning.
This calculus can lead to oral health problems like tooth decay or gum disease. Untreated, both of these problems can lead to serious infections such as abscesses, and ultimately, tooth loss. Fortunately, there are things that your dentist can do to help you avoid the complications of thrombocytopenia.
How can your dentist help?
If you are having trouble brushing or flossing your teeth due to uncontrollable bleeding, talk to your dentist. Your dentist may be able to suggest alternative methods to help keep your mouth clean. If even soft-bristled toothbrushes cause bleeding, your dentist may tell you to use a tooth-cleaning sponge. These products are gentler than soft-bristled toothbrushes, but still allow you to clean your teeth.
If the sponge also causes bleeding, don't worry, because there are still ways that you can clean your teeth. Your dentist may tell you to rinse your mouth with antiseptic mouthwash or a saltwater solution after you eat to keep plaque and bacteria under control.
If you're not able to floss normally, your dentist may recommend alternative flossing methods that are less likely to cut your gums and cause bleeding, such as water flossers. These devices use a stream of water to wash away plaque and food from between your teeth. If even a stream of water is enough to make your gums bleed, your dentist may tell you to avoid flossing completely until your condition has cleared up.
If you are undergoing chemotherapy and notice that your gums are bleeding very easily, you may have thrombocytopenia. Make an appointment with a dentist, like those at Silverado Family Dental, to discuss ways to keep your mouth clean and healthy despite your condition.