Cancer Treatments and Oral Health


Were you diagnosed with cancer? This is indeed a scary disease. If it’s not in an advanced stage, it can be treated or slowed down with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. These methods of cancer treatment can be quite effective. But often they have painful side effects that occur all over body including your mouth. Gums, teeth, salivary glands and oral tissues can all be affected as well. Some of oral problems caused by cancer treatments and therapy are so agonizing that a patient might need not delay or stop the treatment. Knowing about these side effects can help you reduce and manage them with help of your dentist and your physician.


How can your mouth be affected?

Radiation therapy and chemotherapy have oral side effects which vary as per type of cancer and intensity of cancer treatment. They can display themselves in following different manners:

  • Cavities can appear quickly due to low amount of saliva
  • Xerostomia or dry mouth follows a reduced production of saliva as salivary glands get affected during treatments
  • Jaws might experience stiffness
  • There might be a painful or burning feeling in mouth, gums and tongue which also follow a low amount of saliva in mouth
  • Ability to taste the foods reduces
  • Problems with eating, swallowing and speaking
  • Immune system weakens in general
  • Periodontal disease might emerge

To manage all above side effects, your dentist will recommend you to keep your mouth healthy and comfortable.

What should be done before treatments?

Have your mouth and teeth examined to see if you are pre-disposed for certain problems before undergoing cancer treatments. Dentists recommend undergoing a thorough dental exam at least two weeks before the cancer treatment starts. This is done to reduce and manage the undesirable side effects. If you already have cavities or if you already suffer from gum disease, treating and managing those disorders should be done previously.

Before the exam, notify your dentist about your health state with cancer and update your medical history. Your dentist must know who your physician is and what cancer treatment will be as well as other aspects of cancer diagnosis. All this information will help you dentist to understand and plan on how to treat, make right recommendations and support treatment plan of your physician.

How to care for your mouth?

If you have cancer, continue regular and thorough oral hygiene including brushing two to three times a day and flossing at least once a day. Your mouth becomes drier due to low saliva flow after undergoing radiation therapy or chemotherapy. This increases your chances to develop tooth decay and gum disease. Hence you should floss preferably after each meal.

While you brush your teeth, use mild-tasting toothpaste as too much flavour can irritate your mouth. If toothpaste irritates your mouth, then rinse with salt and water after brushing your teeth. To avoid gum disease, rinse your mouth with an antibacterial mouthwash. However, it is also vital to avoid mouthwashes since it contain alcohol.

What to do about dry mouth?

If you have cancer and are suffering from dry mouth, brush your teeth and clean your mouth at least four times a day and floss at least once a day. If there are areas in your gums which bleed or are sore, floss gently around them. Use fluoride containing toothpaste to protect your teeth even more against tooth decay. Rinse your mouth with a solution of salt and baking soda in warm water several times a day, followed by rinsing with water alone.

What should you eat?

While undergoing cancer treatment, you may experience loss of appetite and nausea. However, it is important to get right amount of nutrients and calories. Protein intake is also important. Ensure to get enough vitamins from fruits and vegetables. If needed, take vitamin supplements that provide essential minerals. Most doctors recommend taking vitamin D and calcium to keep your bones healthy. Avoid acidic foods, high sugar beverages, smoking and drinking alcohol during cancer treatment.

Final Verdict

While undergoing cancer treatment, your ability to taste changes and so it’s more difficult to eat foods. Despite all this, it is essential to maintain a balanced diet as recommended by your physician.


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