Guidelines for Treatment of Oral Mucositis
What is the best thing to do for the treatment of oral mucositis? Many people who are undergoing radiation or chemotherapy for cancer experience mucositis as a side effect. Mucositis is an inflammation of the mucosa, the thin mucous membranes that line the digestive tract, starting in the mouth and running through the body.
Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation work by killing off the malignant cells in tumors. However, science does not allow doctors to target these treatments precisely, and healthy cells may also be damaged during treatment. The cells of the mucosa are especially vulnerable. Patients who receive high doses of chemotherapy, full-body irradiation, or radiation of the head and neck have the highest risk of developing mucositis.
Radiation and chemotherapy cause mucositis because they damage the epithelial cells of the mucosa. Mild oral mucositis allows cancer treatments to continue, but patients who suffer from severe (Stage 3 or Stage 4) mucositis cannot continue to receive treatments. For obvious reasons, halting treatments is not ideal. It is important to understand the treatment guidelines so you can do what is necessary to avoid and manage mucositis.
Treatment Guidelines for Mucositis
The guidelines for treatment of oral mucositis are relatively straightforward. The first watchword when it comes to treating any disease is prevention. While the chances of developing mucositis during cancer treatments are high, it is important to be informed and know what you can do to minimize your chances of getting mucositis.
Oral Mucositis Prevention
The first thing to remember is that, while certain bacteria occur naturally in the mouth and are necessary to break down food, other are dangerous and can cause infections. Keeping your mouth clean and free of bacteria and food particles is essential. Food particles can irritate the mucosa, and bacteria can penetrate damaged mucosal tissue and cause an infection.
Instead of brushing your teeth only after meals, one thing you can do is to brush every four hours or so. If you usually use a medium or firm toothbrush, switch to a soft one that will be gentle on your gums. You should also steer clear of whitening toothpastes, and stick to non-abrasive formulas that won’t irritate the mucosa.
Flossing is also a good idea because it keeps food particles from lodging between teeth. It’s important to be very careful while flossing. If you are not cautious, the floss can cut the gums – and any open sore or cut in the mouth is vulnerable to infection.
Good oral hygiene is both a preventive measure, and may be an effective treatment too, helping to keep early stage mucositis from worsening into late stage mucositis.
Other things that can help to prevent mucositis include:
- Cryotherapy – sucking ice chips during chemotherapy or radiation treatments can help soothe the mucosa and keep your mouth moist.
- Other options include chewing gum or sucking on a sour candy. In either case, it is important to stick to sugar-free options, since sugar is an inflammatory that also promotes tooth decay.
- Avoid harsh foods, including spicy food and snacks with hard edges such as chips. Such things can cause damage to the mucosa, which can speed the destruction of epithelial cells and make the development of mucositis more likely.
- Examine your mouth daily for symptoms of mucositis. Some things to look for include inflammation, shiny red gums, blood in the mouth, pain in the mouth, difficulty chewing, and difficulty swallowing. In the advanced stages, ulcers (open sores) develop on the mucosa, making it very painful to eat and drink.
If you notice any signs of mucositis, you should tell your doctor immediately.
Oral Mucositis Management
When mucositis symptoms first appear, it is essential to do whatever you can to manage the disease so that it does not advance to the later stages. When mucositis reaches Stage 3 (serious inflammation) or Stage 4 (ulcerative mucositis), it is necessary to stop cancer treatments to allow the mucosa to heal. Obviously, there are serious risks associated with being forced to stop cancer treatments before you are done, so it is best to do what you can to keep mucositis in the early stages.
One of the best ways to get mucositis under control is to use the amino acid, L-glutamine. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and glutamine plays an important role in repairing damage to cells. While glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body, studies have revealed that many cancer patients end up with a deficiency as they undergo treatment. For that reason, taking a glutamine supplement is an effective way of both preventing and treating oral mucositis.
While glutamine is widely available as a supplement in pill and capsule form, research suggests that the most effective way to take it is as a powder mixed with water. The reason is that drinking the glutamine brings it into direct contact with the mucosa, something that is essential for healing.
Healios Glutamine Complex is an especially effective form of glutamine to take. Studies have shown that it greatly reduced both the onset and severity of mucositis in cancer patients. Developed by Peter M. Anderson, MD, PhD, an oncologist and hematologist, Healios combines L-glutamine with synergistic ingredients to form a powerful and pleasant tasting suspension when mixed with water. It comes in two flavors, orange and grape, and studies have shown that patients who rinsed their mouths with Healios twice a day took longer to develop oral mucositis than patients in the control group. Healios Glutamine Complex also slowed the advancement of mucositis, so the patients who took it had a reduced chance of getting Stage 3 or Stage 4 mucositis.
Our goal at Healios is to make our glutamine supplement available to everyone who needs it. Undergoing cancer treatments is hard enough. We don’t think anybody should have to stop treatments due to mucositis. If you want to learn more about Healios Glutamine Complex and what it can do for you, click here.