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Your Oral Health

Chemotherapy and Your Mouth

Are You Being Treated With Chemotherapy for Cancer?

While chemotherapy helps treat cancer, it can also cause other things to happen in your body. Some of these problems affect the mouth and could cause you to delay or stop treatment.

This booklet will tell you ways to help prevent mouth problems so you'll get the most from your cancer treatment.

To help prevent serious problems, see a dentist at least two weeks before starting chemotherapy. Your dentist can help prevent mouth problems.

How Does Chemotherapy Affect the Mouth?

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to treat cancer. These drugs kill cancer cells, but they may also harm normal cells, including cells in the mouth. Side effects include problems with your teeth and gums; the soft, moist lining of your mouth; and the glands that make saliva.

It's important to know that side effects in the mouth can be serious.

  • The side effects can hurt and make it hard to eat, talk, and swallow.
  • You are more likely to get an infection, which can be dangerous when you are receiving cancer treatment.
  • If the side effects are bad, you may not be able to keep up with your cancer treatment. Your doctor may need to cut back on your cancer treatment or may even stop it.

What Mouth Problems Does Chemotherapy Cause?

You may have certain side effects in your mouth from chemotherapy. Another person may have different problems. The problems depend on the chemotherapy drugs and how your body reacts to them. You may have these problems only during treatment or for a short time after treatment ends.

You can see or feel most of these problems. Check your mouth every day
  • Painful mouth and gums
  • Dry mouth
  • Burning, peeling, or swelling tongue
  • Infection
  • Change in taste

When Should I See a Dentist?

You need to see the dentist at least two weeks before chemotherapy begins. If you have already started chemotherapy and didn't go to a dentist, see one as soon as possible.

What Will the Dentist and Dental Hygienist Do?
  • Check your teeth
  • Take X-rays
  • Take care of mouth problems
  • Show you how to take care of your mouth to prevent side effects
The dentist will do a complete exam.


What Can I Do To Keep My Mouth Healthy?

You can do a lot to keep your mouth healthy during chemotherapy. The first step is to see a dentist before you start cancer treatment. Once your treatment starts, it's important to look in your mouth every day for sores or other changes. These tips can help prevent and treat a sore mouth:


Keep your mouth moist

  • Drink a lot of water.
  • Suck ice chips.
  • Use sugarless gum or sugar-free hard candy.
  • Use a saliva substitute to help moisten your mouth.

Clean your mouth, tongue, and gums

  • Brush your teeth, gums, and tongue with an extra-soft toothbrush after every meal and at bedtime. If brushing hurts, soften the bristles in warm water.
  • Use a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Don't use mouthwashes with alcohol in them.
  • Floss your teeth gently every day. If your gums bleed and hurt, avoid the areas that are bleeding or sore, but keep flossing your other teeth.
  • Rinse your mouth several times a day with a solution of 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1/8 teaspoon salt in one cup of warm water. Follow with a plain water rinse.
  • Dentures that don't fit well can cause problems. Talk to your cancer doctor or dentist about your dentures.

If Your Mouth Is Sore, Watch What You Eat and Drink

  • Choose foods that are good for you and easy to chew and swallow.
  • Take small bites of food, chew slowly, and sip liquids with your meals.
  • Eat soft, moist foods such as cooked cereals, mashed potatoes, and scrambled eggs.
  • If you have trouble swallowing, soften your food with gravy, sauces, broth, yogurt, or other liquids.
  • Sipping liquids with your meals will make eating easier.
  • Remember to stay away from sharp, crunchy foods like taco chips that could scrape or cut your mouth.


Call Your Doctor or Nurse When Your Mouth Hurts

  • Work with them to find medicines to help control the pain.
  • If the pain continues, talk to your cancer doctor about stronger medicines.