Chemotherapy is used to treat cancer. While it targets cancer cells, it can also have negative effects on normal, healthy cells. Since chemotherapy and radiation treatment target rapidly growing cells, treatment will target cells in the mouth and can adversely affect the healthy balance of naturally occurring oral bacteria. Before beginning treatment, it is important to know that side effects in the mouth can be serious and may even lead to delay or termination of chemotherapy treatment.
Oral Symptoms Related to Chemotherapy
- Alteration in taste
- Dry mouth
- Difficulty opening, chewing, or swallowing
- Painful mouth sores
- Inflamed or irritated gums and tongue
- Tooth decay
- Bone loss
Any of these symptoms can lead to infection, which is dangerous during cancer treatment, as the body’s natural immune system is suppressed and less able to fight off infection.
How to Keep Your Mouth Healthy
- See your dentist at least one month before beginning any cancer treatment and inform them of your upcoming chemotherapy.
- Keep your mouth moist to aid in natural cleansing of oral surfaces from bacteria.
- Watch the foods you eat. For instance, use a food processor to make food items easier to swallow, or soften foods with sauces and liquids. Avoid any overly spicy or hot foods that can irritate the gums or other mucous membranes in the oral cavity. Also, avoid sugary foods that can cause decay, or try replacing sweets with xylitol sugar which has an anticavity effect.
- Absolutely no tobacco or alcohol.
“Chemotherapy and Your Mouth.” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 21 July 2017.
“Dental and Oral Health.” Cancer.Net. N.p., 19 Apr. 2016. Web. 21 July 2017.
“Oral Complications of Cancer Treatment: What the Dental Team Can Do.” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 21 July 2017.
“Oral Complications of Chemotherapy and Head/Neck Radiation.” National Cancer Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 July 2017.