Oral Health Care for the Cancer Patient
Cancer treatment can affect oral health and cause a number of side effects:
- Swelling and ulcers of the mucous membranes
- Painful mouth and gums
- Increased risk for oral infections
- Dry mouth
- Tooth decay
- Problems with the tongue burning, swelling, peeling
- Jaw stiffness
- Difficulty eating and swallowing
It can be helpful to see the dentist before beginning cancer treatment. When possible, cancer patients should have a dental examination two weeks before treatment begins to help identify and rule out any infections in the mouth.
Some side effects of chemotherapy can cause oral health problems (such as infection) which may result in stopping or delaying cancer treatment temporarily. If the mouth is unhealthy before chemotherapy starts, the person may be at higher risk for other health problems.
To keep the mouth healthy during chemotherapy and other cancer treatments:
It is important to discuss the best oral disease preventive strategies with your dental professional. Ask if a prescription fluoride gel or rinse may be helpful in preventing the development of cavities. Other suggestions are:
- Drink plenty of water or suck on ice chips.
- Use a saliva substitute that contains fluoride if dry mouth is a problem.
- Choose sugarless gum or candy.
- Avoid sugary foods and beverages the could cause tooth decay.
- Continue to brush teeth, gums, and tongue regularly, and use a super soft brush if needed.
- Use only alcohol-free mouth rinses.
- Floss gently, avoiding areas that are sore or bleeding.
- If dentures are uncomfortable or loose, see the dentist.
- Watch what you eat and drink if the mouth is sore.
- Avoid spicy, acidic, and crunchy foods.
- Do not drink alcoholic beverages.
- Do not use tobacco products.
“Chemotherapy and Your Mouth” – a booklet of the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research – contains more information on health for patients undergoing cancer treatment. This booklet is free, and 50 copies can be ordered from the NIDCR on the web link. The booklet is also available on this link as a PDF file to download and print out. These NIH/NIDCR materials are not copyrighted and duplication is encouraged.
For more information:
Go to the Oral Cancer health topic.