Life After Cancer: Oral Health Problems
Cancer treatment often causes mouth
problems or affects your oral health. It can cause problems such as sores, pain, infection,
saliva changes, and dry mouth. Chemotherapy can cause problems in the mouth, no matter what
kind of cancer it’s used to treat. Radiation treatment to the head and neck for cancer can
cause problems, too. Some get better after treatment, but some can last for a long time
after treatment is over.
Oral problems that can happen after cancer
After cancer treatment, you may have some of these problems:
Sore, red, and inflamed areas inside the mouth (oral mucositis)
Infection from viruses, bacteria, or fungi
Salivary glands that don’t make enough saliva
Thick, sticky saliva
Pain when chewing, speaking, or swallowing
Changes in the way foods
taste and smell
Trouble with very hot foods, cold foods, or both
Cavities, tooth loss, or both
Stiff jaw muscles
Death of bone in the jaw (osteonecrosis)
Nerve pain that feels like a toothache
Thinned tooth enamel from vomiting
Chronic sores, blisters, and
white patches after bone marrow transplant (oral chronic graft-versus-host
When you see your dentist
Make sure to tell all your dental
healthcare providers about your cancer treatment. This helps them plan any treatments
you might need in the future. They will be careful around any problems in your mouth and
watch for changes. They can also look for signs of new problems. Many times, they can
help manage any long-term problems you have.
Tell them if you had chemotherapy,
radiation, or a bone marrow transplant. It may help to share your cancer treatment
records with them. Each kind of treatment can cause different problems. For example,
radiation can cause dry mouth, cavities, and tooth loss. This could lead to even more
problems if you have to have oral surgery or teeth removed later on. Your dentist may
have you use a fluoride to help keep your teeth strong and healthy.
Taking care of your mouth and teeth after cancer
To help keep your mouth and teeth healthy, make sure to:
Gently brush your teeth,
gums, and tongue with a soft toothbrush after every meal and at bedtime.
Gently floss between teeth.
Avoid areas that are painful or bleeding. Check with your cancer healthcare
provider to be sure it’s safe for you to floss.
Don't use toothpicks.
Use a daily fluoride gel if
your dentist prescribes it.
Don’t use mouthwash that has
alcohol in it.
Don’t smoke or chew
Use a mouth-moistening rinse
or spray to help keep your mouth moist.
Chew sugar-free gum or suck
on sugar-free candy or lozenges.
Exercise your jaw. Gently
open and close your mouth 20 times, 3 times a day to prevent stiff jaw muscles.
Your dentist can teach you exercises that can help with pain and stiffness.
Eating and drinking
If you have pain or damage to your
mouth or teeth, or have a high risk for cavities:
Eat soft foods, or foods moistened with sauce or liquid to make swallowing easier.
Take small bites and chew slowly.
Don’t eat salty, spicy, or acidic foods.
Don’t eat sharp, sticky, or rough foods.
Stay away from sugary foods,
drinks, and gum or candy that has sugar.
Don’t drink alcohol.
Working with your dentist
After cancer treatment, you may
have a high risk for cavities for the rest of your life. Talk with your cancer
healthcare provider and your dentist to find out what you should do to take care of your
mouth. Make sure to see your dentist often. Tell him or her about any new problems so
they can be treated right away.