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Inside Dentistry
September 2022
Volume 18, Issue 9

Improving Children’s Cancer Journeys

Proper hygiene reduces the oral side effects of treatment and improves outcomes

Childhood cancers are different than adult cancers. They often require immediate and intense inpatient therapies that can last for several months. Although advances in treatment have boosted the 5-year survival rate to approximately 85%, childhood cancer rates continue to rise, and nearly 10,500 children in the United States under the age of 15 are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in 2022.1 Children are more likely than adults to suffer from the negative oral side effects of treatment both during their cancer journeys and throughout survivorship. These side effects can range from more mild ones, such as discomfort, to growth and development issues and even life-threatening complications.2,3

Oral hygiene protocols, which have been proven to reduce these harmful side effects, not only provide improved quality of life for children with cancer but also reduce the risk of infection for better treatment outcomes.4,5 Medical—dental care integration is an important factor for the overall health of these patients; however, it is often overlooked within the healthcare system.6 To help fill this gap in care, we joined forces and created child-friendly oral health kits called Sugar Bug Fun Bundles.

The Sugar Bug Fun Bundles, which began as a collaborative effort with the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin but grew to include the Children's Hospital of San Antonio and may expand into Virginia with the help of Brooke Crouch, RDH, are based on Where the Sugar Bugs Live, a motivational children's book that educates families on the importance of oral hygiene. They are designed to provide pediatric cancer patients with entertaining tools to motivate them to perform oral hygiene during what is an extremely physically and emotionally taxing experience. Each bundle has a 50-page Where the Sugar Bugs Live Coloring & Activity Workbook and Crayola crayons as well as oral healthcare products and information, including the Cancer Treatments & Oral Health patient support brochure, and more.

The brochure is also available to print in English or Spanish from the Side Effect Support webpage (sideeffectsupport.com/pages/managing-cancer-side-effects-of-mouth). To further our goals to support the oral health of cancer patients, we individually founded Side Effect Support, LLC, which is an online resource for cancer patients, family caregivers, and healthcare providers designed to help improve quality of life and treatment outcomes by reducing side effects and infection risks through a focus on oral health, and Kindness Conquers (kindnessvibes.org), a nonprofit organization that works to bring smiles to children fighting cancer and children in underserved areas.

Because of the disconnect that often occurs between the medical care and dental care of cancer patients, oral healthcare providers have a unique responsibility to engage with them and bridge the gap with both education and appropriate care. In addition to asking our fellow dental professionals to make this a priority, we are also extending an invitation to them to provide complimentary Sugar Bug Fun Bundles to children in treatment through sponsorships. Bundles can be sponsored by individuals, businesses, and nonprofit organizations at: https://sideeffectsupport.com/collections/oral-care-kits/products/childrens-hospital- of-wisconsin-sugar-bug-fun-bundle. If you would like to sponsor Sugar Bug Fun Bundles for children in your area, please reach out to us at either jill@sideeffectsupport.com or wherethesugarbugslive@hotmail.com.

About the Authors

Jill Meyer-Lippert, RDH, is an editorial advisory board member of Inside Dental Hygiene, the founder of Side Effect Support, LLC, and a community relations manager for Custom Dental Solutions. Carrie Wucinich, RDH, is a pediatric dental hygienist, the founder of Kindness Conquers, and the author of Where the Sugar Bugs Live.


References
1. Key statistics for childhood cancers. American Cancer Society website. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-in-children/key-statistics.html. Revised January 12, 2022. Accessed June 21, 2022.
2. Martinez K, Meyer-Lippert J. Pediatric cancer care and the dental professional. RDH. 2022;42(2):16-21.
3. Dental health. Children’s Oncology Group website. https://www.childrensoncologygroup.org/sensory/dentalhealth. Accessed June 21, 2022.
4. Castellucci M. Oral hygiene program reduces infections among young cancer patients at Johns Hopkins. Modern Healthcare website. https://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20180616/TRANSFORMATION03/180619957/oral-hygiene-program-reduces-infections-among-young-cancer-patients-at-johns-hopkins. Published June 16, 2018. Accessed June 21, 2022.
5. Badia P, Andersen H, Haslam D, et al. Improving oral health and modulating the oral microbiome to reduce bloodstream infections from oral organisms in pediatric and young adult hematopoietic stem cell transplantation recipients: a randomized controlled trial. Biol Blood Marrow Transplant. 2020;26(9):1704-1710.
6. Medical-dental integration. DentaQuest website. https://dentaquest.com/oral-health-resources/medical-dental-integration/. Accessed June 21, 2022.

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