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Hepatitis C and Dental Care

Keep your teeth and gums healthy

Follow these simple steps to help keep your teeth and gums healthy. Early stages of tooth decay may also be reversed.

  • Gently brush your teeth twice a day using a small, soft toothbrush and a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
  • Spit the toothpaste out, but don’t rinse.
  • Gently clean between your teeth with floss or an interdental brush. Your dentist can show you how. 
  • Limit how often you have sugary food and drinks
  • Chew sugar-free gum – it stimulates saliva flow and neutralises acids in your mouth.
  • Use fluoride gels – your dentist may suggest applying a small amount of fluoride gel to your teeth once a day on a toothbrush or in a specially made tray for extra protection.
  • Use tooth mousse – it helps protect your teeth from rapid enamel loss and keeps your mouth feeling moist. Your dentist will advise you on availability. 

Caution: products containing fluoride (such as gels and fluoride rinses) should not be swallowed and must be kept out of reach of children. 

Gum infections 

Healthy gums are pink, firm and don’t bleed when brushed. 

Bacteria irritates gums and cause gum infections if plaque is not cleaned from teeth and gums daily. Irritated gums may look red, swollen and bleed. Other signs include receding gums, loose teeth and persistent bad taste or bad breath.

Gently brush teeth and gums in the morning and before bed at night to keep gums healthy. 

People on treatment for hepatitis C (pegylated interferon and ribavirin) may have lower resistance to gum infection.

To help prevent gum infection:

  • brush with a soft toothbrush angled at the gum and move gently in tiny circles
  • floss gently between teeth
  • use interdental brushes where there are spaces between teeth rinse with antibacterial mouthwashes 
  • have regular dental visits for cleaning
  • if you’re a smoker, think about quitting, smoking can make gum disease worse
  • your doctor or dentist can advise and support your decision to quit, call the Quit SA Quitline on 137 848.

If your gums are sore, bleed excessively or have a bad odour, see a dentist urgently. If you have mouth ulcers, sores, infections or pain in your teeth or gums, seek dental advice.

Dry mouth

Saliva lubricates the mouth and assists speech, taste and chewing. Saliva washes teeth, providing minerals for repair. Saliva also helps prevent bacteria, viruses and fungi from causing infections, tooth decay and gum disease. 

Many people with hepatitis C experience dry mouth. Medications such as antidepressants and methadone can make your mouth dry. To help with dry mouth, try:

  • frequently sipping water
  • chewing sugar-free gum
  • using a saliva substitute.

Thrush

Thrush (candidiasis) may appear as white spots or a film inside the mouth. To treat thrush, try:

  • eating natural yoghurt daily
  • using Nilstat/Mycostatin oral drops - ask your dentist, doctor or pharmacist for advice.

If your thrush persists or your mouth splits and bleeds, see your dentist. 

Dentures can aggravate thrush. Try soaking your dentures for 30 minutes in diluted Milton’s solution. If your thrush doesn’t improve or is severe, see your dentist.

Sensitive teeth

Your teeth may be sensitive to hot and cold or sweet food and drinks. Teeth can become sensitive if enamel is lost from the surface of the tooth or if the root surface is exposed. 

Sensitivity can be caused by: 

  • dry mouth
  • poor tooth brushing
  • frequent intake of acidic foods and drinks such as lemons, wine, vinegar or soft drinks frequent vomiting or gastric reflux 
  • grinding teeth – often occurring during sleep,  your dentist may recommend and provide a night splint to protect teeth from wearing.

Desensitising toothpaste or fluoride gel applied to the necks of your teeth may improve sensitivity. If sensitivity does not improve or is severe, consult your dentist.

Mouth ulcers

Ulcers can occur anywhere in the mouth and may be painful. Viruses, hot foods and some medications may cause ulcers. If ulcers do not heal within two weeks, see your dentist for advice.

Note: any unusual lumps, swellings or persistent mouth ulcers should be reported to your dentist.

Denture care

Rinse your dentures after meals. Brush daily with a soft brush and mild soap. Don’t use toothpaste – it’s abrasive and may cause wear to your denture.

Place your dentures in cold water at night and when they are not in your mouth. If your dentures are stained, a small amount of vinegar or bleach may be added to the water. Rinse with water before wearing.

Dentures should fit well to maintain the health of your mouth. It may help to add a small amount of denture adhesive (available from your chemist) to the fitting surface of the denture.

Remember to...

  • use a chap stick or lip balm with a sun protection factor (SPF) when outside. 
  • wear a mouth guard when playing contact sport. 
  • tell your dentist you have hepatitis C.
  • tell your dentist if you are on treatment for hepatitis C. You may be at risk of bleeding or infection and the dentist will need to discuss your treatment management with your doctor.

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