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Up to one-third of patients dealing with cancer will have complications that affect the mouth, such as cavities, gum disease, mouth sores, and dry mouth. These symptoms may range from mild to severe, depending on the treatment and type of cancer. Cancer can affect the health of your teeth, gums, soft tissues and even your salivary glands. This may make it difficult to bite, eat, chew, swallow and even talk. 

How Does Cancer Affect Your Mouth?

Your body has a reduced ability to respond to stressors. Cancer weakens your immune system, which reduces your body’s ability to fight off bacteria and infection. This can cause more plaque and oral bacteria to develop, leading to cavities and gum disease. Also, specific cancer treatments such as radiation can limit the salivary gland’s ability to produce saliva, leading to a dry mouth. 

Cancer and associated treatment can also make it challenging to keep up with proper oral care, such as regular brushing and flossing, due to how you may feel and dealing with other priorities. 

Thankfully, there is a team of doctors and dentists who are there along the way that can help you maintain your oral health as best as possible. This team includes oral oncologists, general dentists, oral surgeons and periodontists (gum specialists.)

Oral Side Effects 

The main causes of oral effects (such as cavities and gum disease) during cancer treatments are dry mouth, thickened saliva, infection, bone disease, mouth sores and jaw stiffness. Not to mention a general feeling of unwell that is likely to contribute to less upkeep with oral hygiene routines. 

Oral side effects from chemotherapy include changes to taste, mouth sores, peeling soft tissues of the cheeks and tongue, infection and bleeding gums. 

The best way to maintain adequate oral hygiene, as best as possible, during cancer treatment is to brush twice a day gently using a soft-bristled toothbrush, use fluoride in your toothpaste and even in a mouth wash, avoid alcohol, avoid rough textured food, avoid spicy food and consume an adequate amount of vitamin D and calcium to promote good bone and teeth health. 

To help with mouth sores and painful tissues, you can try using a salt-water rinse or baking soda rinse, sucking on ice chips, over-the-counter pain medications and even salivary substitute products that help promote salivary flow. Be sure to ask your doctor before taking any medications. 

If you have any questions about your oral health during cancer treatment, we encourage you to contact us today to schedule an appointment