How Cancer Treatments Can Affect Your Oral Health
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
A healthy mouth is vital to achieving overall health. It can be
of particular importance during cancer treatments. It is not only a
concern for comfort but can also prevent delays in treatments and
risks of infection that could potentially spread to other areas of
Many types of chemotherapy or radiation therapy to the head
& neck region, as well as some targeted therapies can cause
significant changes in the mouth, the two most common being Dry
Mouth and mouth sores called Oral Mucositis.
A dry mouth is far more than an annoyance. Saliva is needed for
proper digestion, swallowing and speaking. It helps to reduce taste
changes often associated with cancer treatments. Saliva acts as a
lubricant to prevent injury to the oral tissues and protects the
teeth from cavities and enamel erosion. Saliva's protective agents
can also defend against infections like Thrush, which is very
important when the immune system is compromised from low blood
For those receiving chemotherapy, issues with Dry Mouth will
typically return to normal when treatments are complete. Radiation
to the head and neck can result in permanent damage to salivary
glands causing lifelong oral complications associated with lack of
saliva. The extent of the damage to salivary glands or other oral
structures depends greatly on the dosage and direction of the beam
Oral Mucositis affects, to some degree, approximately 40% of
those receiving standard dose chemotherapy and nearly all who
receive radiation to the head and neck. Mucositis can range from
mild soreness of the oral tissues to severe, painful ulcerations
that result in complications with eating, delays in treatments and
risks of infection. Oral Mucositis may be accentuated by using oral
care products with harsh, irritating ingredients and by trauma from
improper oral hygiene techniques, existing dental issues and food
Dry Mouth, Oral Mucositis, and other oral complications
associated with cancer treatments can be minimized, and in some
cases prevented, by being proactive with your dental care, product
selection and modified oral hygiene techniques.
Simple ways to protect your mouth include:
- Good oral hygiene and plaque removal are essential.
- Use an extra soft toothbrush with a small, compact head to
avoid tissue trauma.
- Use toothpaste free of irritating ingredients including
detergents, peroxide, tartar control and whitening agents.
- Choose a mouth rinse that does not contain alcohol, phenol or
- Stimulate saliva with sugarless gum and mints sweetened 100%
- Use over-the-counter oral moisturizers
- Avoid dry, salty, sharp and sticky foods. Choose foods
moistened with sauces and gravies.
- Avoid beverages that contain alcohol, caffeine and high acid
levels like soft drinks. Stay well hydrated by drinking lots of
- Talk with your Physician or Dentist for prescription products
to relieve Dry Mouth and protect oral tissues.
Find more information on oral health and cancer treatments at www.sideeffectsupport.com
Jill Meyer Lippert, Registered Dental Hygienist
Founder of Side Effect Support LLC