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Your Oral Health

Three Good Reasons to See a Dentist Before Cancer Treatment

1 - Feel better

Your cancer treatment may be easier if you work with your dentist and hygienist. Make sure you have a pretreatment dental checkup.

2 - Save teeth and bones

A dentist will help protect your mouth, teeth, and jaw bones from damage caused by radiation and chemotherapy. Children also need special protection for their growing teeth and facial bones.

3 - Fight cancer

Doctors may have to delay or stop your cancer treatment because of problems in your mouth. To fight cancer best, your cancer care team should include a dentist.


Protect Your Mouth During Cancer Treatment

Brush gently, brush often

  • Brush your teeth and your tongue gently with an extra-soft toothbrush.

  • If your mouth is very sore, soften the bristles in warm water.

  • Brush after every meal and at bedtime. 

Floss gently - do it daily

  • Floss once a day to remove plaque.

  • If your gums bleed and hurt, avoid the areas that are bleeding or sore, but keep flossing your other teeth.

Keep your mouth moist

  • Rinse often with water.

  • Don't use mouthwashes with alcohol in them.

  • Use a saliva substitute to help moisten your mouth. 

Eat and drink with care

  • Choose soft, easy-to-chew foods.

  • Protect your mouth from spicy, sour, or crunchy foods.

  • Choose lukewarm foods and drinks instead of hot or icy cold.

  • Avoid alcoholic drinks. 

Quit using tobacco (or keep trying)

  • Ask your cancer care team to help you stop smoking or chewing tobacco.

  • People who quit smoking or chewing tobacco have fewer mouth problems. 


When Should You Call Your Cancer Care Team About Mouth Problems?

Take a moment each day to check how your mouth looks and feels.

Call your cancer care team when

  • you first notice a mouth problem.
  • an old problem gets worse.
  • you notice any changes you're not sure about.

Tips for Mouth Problems

Sore Mouth, Sore Throat

To help keep your mouth clean, rinse often with 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda and 1/8 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of warm water. Follow with a plain water rinse. Ask your cancer care team about medicines that can help with the pain.

Dry Mouth

Rinse your mouth often with water, use sugar-free gum or candy, and talk to your dentist about saliva substitutes.


Call your cancer care team right away if you see a sore, swelling, bleeding, or a sticky, white film in your mouth.

Eating Problems

Your cancer care team can help by giving you medicines to numb the pain from mouth sores and showing you how to choose foods that are easy to swallow.


If your gums bleed or hurt, avoid flossing the areas that are bleeding or sore, but keep flossing other teeth. Soften the bristles of your toothbrush in warm water.

Stiffness in Chewing Muscles

Three times a day, open and close your mouth as far as you can without pain. Repeat 20 times.


Rinse your mouth after vomiting with 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda in 1 cup of warm water.


Brush your teeth after meals and before bedtime. Your dentist might have you put fluoride on your teeth to help prevent cavities.

This information is part of a series on managing and preventing oral complications of cancer treatment. The series was developed in partnership with the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Nursing Research, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Friends of the NIDCR.