Mouth cancer patients in Bradford will be the first in the world to try a new battery-powered gum shield that could end the misery of a dry mouth. The pacemaker device fits over the lower teeth and uses minor, painless, electric shocks to trigger saliva production.
A dry mouth is a common side-effect of radiotherapy for cancer of the head and neck. Healthy people produce around three pints of saliva a day. It is crucial for aiding digestion by softening food as well as fighting dental bacteria. It is also necessary for basic functions, such as speaking and swallowing.
Patients being treated at Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust are being recruited to the double-blind trial, along with patients in London. Forty will be given a functioning device, while the remaining 44 will receive a placebo one. Neither the patients nor the doctors will know who has been given the active device. More than 15 patients have already been recruited in Bradford.
Dr Jim McCaul, a consultant maxillofacial surgeon at Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation, said: “Having a horrible dry mouth makes it impossible to chew food and difficult to speak. Patients worry about things like eating out in public and can’t taste their food as saliva facilitates taste. There is also an immune function in saliva.”
Dr McCaul said up to now the only solution to the problem was for patients to sip water or use a saliva substitute in spray form, but the new device seemed to offer fresh hope.
He said it had already proved successful in people suffering from a dry mouth as a result of other conditions.
“This is the first time in the world it has been tested on mouth cancer patients,” added Dr McCaul. “Bradford was picked by the London centre because we have a good patient support group.”