Along with bone pain, neuropathy, joint pain, brain fog and exhaustion, a lot of chemo regimens also come with oral issues such as mouth sores, mouth & throat thrush, dry mouth, and loss (or change) of taste buds.
Someone out there has a pretty sick sense of humour, wouldn't you say? I mean, as if having cancer isn't bad enough, but then you get to add all of these lovely and potential side effects on top of that. It's a lot to prepare for - physically AND mentally.
With that said, and as I mention in most of my blog posts, in the few weeks between diagnosis and starting chemo, I was obsessed with researching ways to avoid and remedy the potential side effects that I was told I could expect. And I was leaning as far towards holistic remedies as I could.
One absolutely amazing tip that I happened upon, to help with oral issues, was a method called OIL PULLING.
I had heard of this before, but had never really given it more than a passing thought. But, after seeing this video from Aniela McGuinness of The Cancer Grad, I knew that this was going to be something that I incorporated into my daily morning routine.
And I did - every single morning throughout my six month chemo run. And once I completed chemo, I continued to do it a couple of times a week. Now, fifteen months post-chemo, I'll admit that I don't do it quite that often - but I still get a couple of mouthfuls in every other week or so.
And you know what ... I didn't experience any oral issues at all.
Ok, well I may have had a teeny tiny bit of dry mouth after my first couple of infusions. But it was hardly anything even worth mentioning.
So, what exactly is oil pulling you ask?
Oil pulling is easy to do and involves just a few simple steps.
1. Measure one tablespoon of oil, such as coconut, sesame or olive oil.
2. Swish it around in your mouth for 15–20 minutes, being careful not to swallow any.
3. Spit the oil into a trash can once you're done. Avoid spitting it into the sink or toilet, as this can cause a buildup of oil, which may lead to clogging.
4. Rinse your mouth well using water before eating or drinking anything.
And what are the benefits?
Can Kill Harmful Bacteria in Your Mouth
Could Help Reduce Bad Breath
May Help Prevent Cavities
Seems to Reduce Inflammation and Improve Gum Health
Cheap and Easy to Add to Your Routine
And last, but certainly not least, it can (in many cases) help manage and/or minimize the icky (oral) side effects that I mentioned at the beginning of this post
NOTE: you don't have to be a card holding member of the cancer club , or going through treatment to reap the benefits of this practice. It's something that anyone and everyone can do to help improve their oral health.
Also, when I first started doing this, I started with a much smaller amount and less time on the clock. I worked up from a teaspoon for 5 minutes, to a full tablespoon for 20 minutes.
And, I also added a drop of peppermint and clove essential oil to each spoonful.
Clove e.o. can be used as an antimicrobial, and may also help prevent cavities and relieve oral pain (resource). And Peppermint e.o. is of course to freshen the breath.
Be sure though, that you're sourcing premium quality essential oils.
Do not - and I repeat DO NOT - use the $5 bottle of peppermint "essential oil" that you purchased from the corner store. In fact, toss that puppy in the garbage! Even though you won't be swallowing the mixture, it's still going in your mouth, so some will be ingested.
As for the oil - I use organic coconut oil.
I live in Toronto 🇨🇦, so except for a few heatwaves throughout the summer months, my coconut oil is usually in solid form. This of course melts almost immediately once it's in my mouth, but the consistency during that 4-5 second melting process did take a few days to get used to.
If that's not your jam, you can definitely use olive oil, or avocado oil.
Again though, make sure you're using a good quality oil.
You don't want to be ingesting chemicals and additives when the whole purpose of this process is to extract toxins.
A few additional tips and tricks that I learned and heard about along the way ....
Sucking on ice chips while your chemo is being administered - which I did throughout every infusion.
Cryotherapy (ice chips): Symptomatic relief from mouth pain can be achieved by sucking ice chips when the chemotherapy drug is most concentrated in the body. This technique, called cryotherapy, works by decreasing blood flow to the cells in the mouth, reducing exposure to the drug and decreasing the risk of developing mouth sores. Furthermore, according to a recent Cochran review, sucking ice is the only measure proven to prevent mouth sores. (Source)
Also, a lot of people complain of a metallic'y taste. I didn't experience this, however, I read somewhere that using plastic (bad for the environment, I know), wood or bamboo cutlery when eating (instead of silverware) could help to minimize that.
I became friends with a gentleman in the chemo waiting room early on in my journey, who was being treated for throat cancer. He said he could hardly eat anything because of the fact that everything tasted like he had a mouthful of nails. I mentioned this article to him, and he said he'd give it a try. I saw him again a few weeks later, and he said that while it didn't eliminate the issue altogether, it made a big enough difference that he could actually somewhat enjoy what he was eating.
Another great tip was from my dentist.
I went in for a cleaning the week before starting chemo, and she suggested that I stock up on PUR products (mints and gum). These are aspartame free, with natural ingredients, including xylitol. And, something that I didn't know until she told me, is that xylitol can help prevent cavities and reduce tooth decay.
And as I had learned in all of my Google searching, chemo can really do a number of our teeth. And dentists are on the NO FLY list while in active treatment. So I stocked up on PUR products - both the gum and the mint - which also came in handy to suck on while my port was being flushed, as the taste (AND smell) of the saline flush was almost nauseating for me towards the end of my chemo run.
WARNING: xylitol can be LETHAL if ingested by our pets. So if you do opt to give this a try, and you have a pet, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE keep it tucked away somewhere safe where your little fur babe can't get to it.
Lastly, I used Biotene Dry Mouth Oral Rinse (which just so happens to contain xylitol) every night before bed. As I mentioned earlier on in this post, I did experience a little bit of dry mouth over my first few infusions - mostly overnight. And one of my chemo nurses suggested I give this a try. There's a prescription mouth wash that most oncologists will suggest, called Magic Mouthwash. However, it ain't cheap. So I opted to give Biotene a try first, and it worked like a charm. And even after the dry mouth subsided, I still continued to use this every night before bed - just as an added layer.
Anyways, I hope that these are helpful tips for some of you. I know that chemo and radiation, and the side effects that come along with both, are a lot to process and deal with. My way of dealing was to research, obsessively. And if I can pass some of what I found, on to any of you, then I'm happy for it!