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cancer treatment

Oral Care During Cancer Treatment

Maintaining oral health or paying attention to dental care is probably the last thing that most patients think about, when going through cancer treatment. Most people are aware of side effects such as loss of hair, nausea, infection and more. However, radiation treatment and chemotherapy treatment, produces oral side effects as well. It is important to remember to keep up with basic oral care during treatment, to prevent further complications.

Oral Complications of Cancer Treatment

dry mouth and cancer treatment

Over a third of patients who undergo cancer treatment, develop complications from the treatment that affect their mouth. Some of these complications can affect the effectiveness of the cancer treatment. This can lead to diminished quality of life for the patient during and after treatment, depending on the severity of the complications. Radiation of the neck, head and chemotherapy can cause oral complications that range from dry mouth symptoms to infections that can be life-threatening.

While going through radiation treatment, patients may experience sores in the mouth and a dry mouth, also known as xerostomia. Radiation affects the salivary glands, causing them to produce less saliva. Reduced salivary flow leads in an increase of bacteria that cause dental decay. Plaque buildup and tartar buildup also occurs at a faster rate with reduced saliva flow.

What Can You Do?

If you have not began treatment yet, it is important to see your dentist so they can identify any potential dental issues. If any teeth are infected, they should be removed at least one week prior cancer treatment. Teeth with existing dental decay, should also be restored before cancer treatment begins.

glass of water

During chemotherapy and radiation therapy, try to follow these tips:

  • Use a soft toothbrush to brush your teeth.
  • Avoid flossing if it results in bleeding when platelet count is low.
  • Wear dentures only for meals (if applicable).
  • Rinse with warm salt water or baking soda and water.
  • Avoid mouthwashes that contain alcohol.
  • Avoid smoking pipes, cigarettes, cigars, caffeine and alcohol because they all cause xerostomia.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to help with xerostomia.
  • Using chapstick or vaseline will help to prevent dry and cracked lips.
  • Side effects during treatment will vary between patients. Good oral care during cancer treatment will reduce complications and result in better quality of life as you progress through treatment and after treatment is completed.


About Dr. Joseph Salvaggio

Dr. Joseph Salvaggio, DDS

Located in Brampton, Ontario Dr. Joseph Salvaggio has been practicing general, cosmetic, and implant dentistry for over 20 years. He enjoys interacting with his patients and helping to restore their oral health for better overall health as well. Meeting new patients, interacting and educating them is one of Dr. Salvaggio’s biggest joys. We encourage you to read our reviews or call us with any dental questions you have. We look forward to speaking with you and meeting you soon.

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