Cancer Treatment and Your Teeth – Focus on Coming in for Check-Up

There have been many studies on cancer and dental health. Treatments such as chemotherapy can have major side effects that can leave you with painful gums, brittle teeth and even sores in the mouth. 

It’s important to know more about the correlation between cancer treatment and oral health so you can take the necessary precautions to protect your mouth. In this article, you’ll find information about various side effects cancer can have on the mouth and how you help to alleviate the symptoms. Keep reading to find out more. 

Can Cancer Affect Your Teeth?

Certain cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy can affect every part of your mouth including your teeth, cheeks, and gums. However, poor oral health can also contribute to the negative side effects of cancer treatment. 

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, more than one-third of all cancer patients develop complications that affect the mouth during treatment. So, it’s not uncommon that you’ll experience issues with your oral health while you’re being treated for cancer. 

What Causes Cancer Treatment Side Effects in the Mouth?

Cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy can affect the healthy balance of bacteria in the mouth. There are many different types of bacteria that live in your mouth both good and bad. Chemotherapy and radiation can alter your saliva glands and lining of your mouth which affects oral health. 

Additionally, radiation can directly damage and break down oral tissue which causes side effects such as tooth decay or sores in the mouth. These oral complications are more prominent in patients who have neck and head cancer. 

Side Effects of Cancer Treatment in the Mouth 

Since certain cancer treatments affect the natural balance in your mouth you may experience the following side effects mentioned in this section. 

Dry Mouth

As mentioned before, chemotherapy and radiation can damage the saliva glands which disrupts the flow of saliva in the mouth. This can cause severe dry mouth or xerostomia. A dry mouth is extremely uncomfortable and can’t be fixed by simply drinking water. 

Furthermore, a dry mouth can cause tooth decay because saliva helps wash away dirt and bacteria in the mouth. Without saliva food and bacteria will remain in the crevices of your teeth which causes them to rot. A dry mouth can also cause halitosis because your mouth isn’t being cleaned regularly by flowing saliva.  Saliva also contains substances which help to protect our teeth from developing decay.

Tooth Decay

Tooth decay is caused by a build-up of plaque on the teeth. Since saliva glands are affected by cancer treatment, the build-up of plaque may increase and cause your teeth to decay. One of the major side effects of radiation is the breaking down of tissue which includes your teeth. This is not really correct- it is more related to dry mouth than just the plaque.

Gum Bleeding 

Stem cell transplants and high doses of chemotherapy can cause the platelets in your blood to decrease. Platelets are large cells in the bone marrow, and they help form blood clots to slow down bleeding or heal wounds. Having a low platelet count can cause a person to bleed which could be mild or severe. 

Bleeding may occur when you brush your teeth, especially at the lining of your gums which can cause sores or ulcers on the gums. Sometimes patients can bleed when flossing or eating food. 

Mouth Sores 

Radiation therapy or chemotherapy can cause sores in the mucus membranes that line the mouth. This condition is called mucositis which can be extremely painful. The condition causes infections that make it difficult to swallow because it affects the:

  • Throat 
  • Mouth 
  • Digestive tract 

You may also get sores inside your cheeks or on your gums that can be painful when you brush or floss. 

Taste Changes 

Cancer treatments can completely alter your taste buds which can significantly change the way you taste food or beverages. Food may taste more bitter, sweet, savoury, or salty. What’s more, certain treatments can cause you to lose your sense of taste completely. 

Sensitive Gums 

Certain types of cancer medication and therapy can cause sensitive gums and inflammation. This side effect can make it difficult for patients to brush, floss and even eat certain foods. 

Tips to Protect Your Oral Health During Cancer Treatment 

Cancer treatments can cause other major side effects on the body that you can’t control such as weight and hair loss. But it can also cause pain in the mouth. Oral health is a key factor to consider during cancer treatment but it varies massively depending on the type of cancer you have.

The main thing is to get your teeth and mouth checked prior to cancer RX. 

Dentists aim for a preventative approach and give advice on how to protect your teeth depending on the cancer you have. Often when a patient starts treatment it’s key that the patient’s oral health is in the best condition to avoid dental treatment. Here are common tips to help protect your teeth during cancer treatment. 

Drink Lots of Water

To relieve dry mouth drink plenty of filtered water in a glass bottle. Drinking out of a plastic bottle may make your dry mouth worse especially if you’re allergic to plastic. Avoid acidic beverages such as orange juice as this can irritate your mouth more. Avoid sugary carbonated drinks because this can increase the risk of tooth decay. Whenever your mouth feels dry, simply sip on cold water. 

Suck on Ice 

During your chemotherapy treatment, you can request ice chips to prevent your mouth from burning or sores from developing. The coldness of the ice narrows the blood vessels. This reduces the amount of blood containing chemotherapy drugs from reaching the mouth and causing sores. 

Floss Your Teeth

Even if your cancer treatment hasn’t affected your mouth, you should still floss regularly. Flossing helps remove food and plaque build-up in the teeth that cause tooth decay. Food also attracts bacteria that can irritate mouth sores so it’s best to keep your teeth clean at all times. 

Rinse Your Mouth Often 

If you suffer from a dry mouth, then you should rinse your mouth often to remove unwanted bacteria and food. Avoid using mouth wash because they’re alcohol-based which can increase dry mouth syndrome. Instead, rinse your mouth out with warm saltwater. 

Brush Regularly 

Brush your teeth in the mornings and evenings to prevent the build-up of plaque and tooth decay. If you have sensitive gums use a soft bristle toothbrush. Or you can use a saltwater solution as an alternative to toothpaste because salt is a natural disinfectant. 

You can also get salivary substitutes and go on high fluoride toothpastes

How Dentistry Can Help Manage Oral Health During Cancer Treatments

Throughout your cancer treatment, you should visit your dentist for regular check-ups. Communicate with your dentist and mention any changes in your oral health during your treatment. Your dentist will be able to prescribe the best medicines for your mouth and help prevent damage to your teeth during your treatment. 


Are you currently undergoing cancer treatment that’s affecting your oral health? Contact Shine Dental on 01420 550616 to book an appointment with one of our top professional dentists. Our team is here to ensure you don’t lose the health and aesthetics of your teeth caused by cancer treatments. We’ll provide the best treatment to preserve your teeth and help alleviate your discomfort. 

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