Breast cancer lesson number 28: Don’t forget your toothbrush… or the dentist

There’s one thing I fear more than giant needles, mean cancer-fighting drugs and surgeons with sharp scalpels ­– and that’s the dentist. Don’t ask me why. I have never had invasive procedures, don’t have a clue what real toothache feels like and I have been blessed with lovely dentists (my childhood dentist even had a photo of the town on his ceiling to keep us patients entertained). I know it’s irrational. I know it sounds truly bonkers when I seem to be smiling in the face of everything else. But, there is something about the prospect of sitting in a dentist’s chair that makes me feel a little bit sick! Maybe it’s the fact that when someone has their hand in your mouth, no one can hear you scream.

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I have to admit, however, that following today’s early-morning appointment, I may have to reconsider my view of the dentist. I still hate the chair (more so today because I had to raise my knees to stop it pulling on my tummy ) and the fact every time I go to swallow I fear the dentist’s tools will end up in my cheek! But, I have now discovered a word that makes dentists roll up their sleeves and forget the flossing lecture. The word? CHEMO!

I felt sorry for my dentist this morning. No one wants an 8.30am patient with more problems than can fit on a medical history form (they should make the boxes just a little bit bigger though. Am not sure having room just to put the words ‘breast cancer’ is enough). A few minutes racing through new boobs, fertility, chemo and radio and my check-up turned from a quick blast of dentist speak: ‘one, two, upper part erupted etc’ into a 20-minute ‘let’s-fill-and-seal-what-we-can-to-stop-the-chemo-getting-your-teeth’ session. I reckon my teeth are now so well reinforced, I could make a stick of rock feel like a stick of celery.

I would never have summoned up the courage to go to the dentist two weeks after the introduction of new boobie, had it not already been penned in the diary (I don’t like crossing things out). But, having had such a pleasant and supportive experience, I’m already booked in to go back in June (with the hygienist in a few weeks time).

Humbled again by the kindness of strangers, it’s amazing just how many people there are willing you on and arming you with the tools to stay strong.

Read booklets about chemo (which my breast care nurse did warn me is like reading the list of side effects in a packet of paracetamol) and they talk about the possibility of getting a sore mouth, dry mouth, ulcers, tooth decay, infection, bleeding gums, oral thrush and taste changes! Nice. They also advise people to use a soft toothbrush, brush after every meal, use an alcohol-free mouthwash (which Listerine in photo isn’t by the way), avoid spicy and acidic food (if mouth sore), take regular sips of water and chew sugar-free gum.

Hopefully, with a combination of toothpaste treats and dental checks, I’ll get through this next phase with happy – if not pearly white – teeth.

So, today is the day I say goodbye to ‘the fear’ and hello to mouthwash! My teeth are ready for battle – now I just need to work out what else needs a bit of reinforcement!

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