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Chemotherapy and Your Mouth

Are You Being Treated With Chemotherapy for Cancer?

Chemotherapy for CancerIf so, this information can help you. While chemotherapy helps treat cancer, it can also cause other things to happen in your body called side effects. Some of these problems affect the mouth and could cause you to delay or stop treatment. This article will tell you ways to help prevent mouth problems so you'll get the most from your cancer treatment.


To help prevent serious problems, see a dentist at least 2 weeks before starting chemotherapy.

How Does Chemotherapy Affect the Mouth?

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to treat cancer. These drugs kill cancer cells, but they may also harm normal cells, including cells in the mouth. Side effects include problems with your teeth and gums; the soft, moist lining of your mouth; and the glands that make saliva (spit).

It's important to know that side effects in the mouth can be serious.


What Mouth Problems Does Chemotherapy Cause?

You may have certain side effects in your mouth from chemotherapy. Another person may have different problems. The problems depend on the chemotherapy drugs and how your body reacts to them. You may have these problems only during treatment or for a short time after treatment ends.


Why Should I See a Dentist?


You may be surprised that your dentist is important in your cancer treatment. If you go to the dentist before chemotherapy begins, you can help prevent serious mouth problems. Side effects often happen because a person's mouth is not healthy before chemotherapy starts. Not all mouth problems can be avoided but the fewer side effects you have, the more likely you will stay on your cancer treatment schedule.

It's important for your dentist and cancer doctor to talk to each other about your cancer treatment. Be sure to give your dentist your cancer doctor's phone number.


When Should I See a Dentist?


You need to see the dentist at least 2 weeks before chemotherapy begins. If you have already started chemotherapy and didn't go to a dentist, see one as soon as possible.

Dentist and Dental Hygienist


What Will the Dentist and Dental Hygienist Do?


What Can I Do To Keep My Mouth Healthy?

You can do a lot to keep your mouth healthy during chemotherapy. The first step is to see a dentist before you start cancer treatment. Once your treatment starts, it's important to look in your mouth every day for sores or other changes. These tips can help prevent and treat a sore mouth:


Keep your mouth moist.

Clean your mouth, tongue, and gums.

If Your Mouth Is Sore, Watch What You Eat and Drink.


Call Your Doctor or Nurse When Your Mouth Hurts.


Remember To Stay Away From


Do Children Get Mouth Problems Too?



Chemotherapy causes other side effects in children, depending on the child's age.


Problems with teeth are the most common. Permanent teeth may be slow to come in and may look different from normal teeth. Teeth may fall out. The dentist will check your child's jaws for any growth problems.


Before chemotherapy begins, take your child to a dentist. The dentist will check your child's mouth carefully and pull loose teeth or those that may become loose during treatment. Ask the dentist or hygienist what you can do to help your child with mouth care.

Remember: Treatment


The individuals listed here provided assistance in developing, reviewing, and field testing all of the campaign publications. The campaign sponsors would like to thank them for their contributions.

Scientific Committee

Gerry Barker, R.D.H., M.A.
University of Missouri-Kansas City
Kansas City, MO

Susan L. Beck, R.N., Ph.D., A.O.C.N.
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, UT


Marylin Dodd, R.N., Ph.D.
University of California, San Francisco
San Francisco, CA


Joel Epstein, D.M.D., M.S.D., F.R.C.D.
University of Washington
Seattle, WA


Philip Fox, D.D.S.
Bethesda, MD

Deborah McGuire, R.N., Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA


Douglas Peterson, D.M.D., Ph.D.
University of Connecticut
Farmington, CT


Mark M. Schubert, D.D.S., M.S.D.
University of Washington
Seattle, WA


John Wingard, M.D.
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL

Field Testers

Olubunmi Abayomi, M.D.
Howard University Hospital
Washington, DC


Alice Bass, B.S.N., O.C.N.
Greater Southeast Community Hospital
Washington, DC


Betsy Bischoff, R.N., M.S.
Georgetown University Medical Center
Washington, DC


Andrea Bonnick, D.D.S.
Howard University
Washington, DC


Dorothy Chesley, R.N., Ph.D.
Texas Nursing Foundation
Austin, TX


Nancy E. Leupold, M.S.
Support for People with Oral and Head and Neck Cancer (SPOHNC)
Locust Valley, NY


Alice Mahan, B.S., R.T.T.
Howard University Hospital
Washington, DC


MiKaela Olsen, R.N., M.S., O.C.N.
UCSF Stanford Health Care
Stanford, CA


Peter Passero, D.D.S.
Prizm Dental Partners and Management Group
McLean, VA


K. Vendrell Rankin, D.D.S.
Baylor College of Dentistry
Dallas, TX



Chemotherapy and Your Mouth (National Institutes of Health Publication No. 02-4361)


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Last Reviewed: Jul 03, 2014