• Oral Treatment for Chemotherapy Patients at Metro Dental

    The side effects of chemotherapy can include adverse effects on your oral health.

Oral Care & Chemotherapy

Your body and all of its systems are intertwined and function as a whole. Oral health greatly impacts and influences your overall health in general; plaque buildup and harmful bacteria can cause periodontitis (the breakdown of tissue and bone at the surface of and beneath the gum line), and gingivitis (gum disease). There has also been research that suggests harmful oral bacteria can enter your body via bleeding gums and affect other body systems such as the cardiovascular system. The buildup of plaque and bacteria in heart arteries can increase the possibility of a heart attack.

Regular cleanings and oral maintenance can improve your health by decreasing the amount of plaque around your teeth and gums, and helps to prevent bad bacteria from accumulating by removing their ideal environment.

The side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy need to be understood and taken into account by patients in order to plan the most efficient way to maintain oral care while receiving treatments and help prevent potential problems that may occur.

Chemotherapy can have a toxic effect on oral tissue and your body’s natural ability to function. It is common for chemotherapy to debilitate the function of bone marrow, because it suppresses the formation of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. If cancer is within the head and neck region there is an increase probability of side effects and oral problems.

Chemotherapy's Impact on Oral Health

Chemotherapy has a variety of side effects, including:

  • Damage to mucous membranes
  • Inflammation and ulceration due to damage of the mucous membranes.
  • Increase risk of infection
  • Mouth and gum pain
  • Tongue inflammation, burning, and peeling.
  • Mouth dryness
  • A change in taste.

For children, chemotherapy can be difficult, and may require special oral care. Chemotherapy can cause abnormal tooth development, skeletal development, and tooth loss. There is an increase chance of risk if the child receives high doses of radiation or chemotherapy before the age of nine. The dentist may consider pulling any loose teeth the child has prior to beginning chemotherapy treatments. Additional side effects for children undergoing chemotherapy include:

  • Adult teeth may grow in slower and may appear different than normal teeth.
  • Tooth loss
  • Damage to mucous membranes
  • Inflammation and ulceration due to damage of the mucous membranes.
  • Increase risk of infection
  • Mouth and gum pain
  • Tongue inflammation burning, and peeling.
  • Mouth dryness
  • A change in taste



Your oral health and oral care is especially important while you receive chemotherapy. There are certain processes and special considerations that need to take place before you begin, while you receive, and after you have completed your cancer therapy.

Before beginning chemotherapy, schedule a pretreatment oral evaluation with your dentist. (Make sure to have your cancer diagnosis, treatment plan, and dental history available)

If there were issues that were identified in the evaluation that require treatment make sure to schedule your appointments according to when you are supposed to begin chemotherapy. There should be at least a two week window for healing time after the procedure and before you start to receive chemotherapy treatments

Treat any current problems that were identified in the evaluation; such as, tooth fractures, infection, restorations, and periodontal disease. (Taking care of these matters prior to therapy will help to lessen the probability of oral complications while you receive chemotherapy).

Have your teeth professionally cleaned, (chemotherapy may cause irritation and oral discomfort, so receiving cleanings during treatment may be uncomfortable and increase certain health risks.

During chemotherapy, dental work should be avoided if possible while receiving chemotherapy due to possible risk factors that may occur, because of the side effects associated with chemotherapy treatments. If emergency care is needed it should be discussed with your care providers and carefully planned out. While you receive chemotherapy it is important to be vigilant and report any changes such as swelling, infection, new cavities, etc. to your care providers in order to help prevent more serious complications. If cancer is within the head and neck region more cautious measures such as ingested fluoride may be a necessary addition to the oral care plan you have created with your care providers.

Oral care and maintenance should continue during chemotherapy treatment. Because chemotherapy has been known to have adverse side effects in regards to the mouth such as, pain, dryness, and inflammation some of the following tips along with the recommended maintenance may help to make the experience less painful and more comfortable.

Use an extra soft tooth brush on your tongue, teeth, and gums. If it still hurts, softening the bristles in warm water first may help.

  1. Avoid mouthwashes that contain alcohol.
  2. Make sure to use toothpaste that contains fluoride.
  3. Gently floss your teeth every day. It’s understandable to avoid sore or bleeding areas, but make sure to still floss your other teeth.

You can help to keep your mouth clean by rinsing with a solution of one fourth teaspoon baking soda and one fourth teaspoon of salt in one quart of warm water several times a day, make sure to rinse your mouth with plain water after the solution each time.

If you wear dentures that do not fit properly you should make sure to address it with your care providers in order to prevent possible problems.

Using sugarless gum or candy, ice chips, saliva substitutes, and drinking plenty of water can help to relieve mouth dryness and help to keep your mouth moist if you are having issues with dryness.

After you have completed chemotherapy:

It is very important to discuss your after care oral treatment plan with your care providers. Often time’s routine maintenance and oral care can resume however there may be special considerations if you have received stem cell transplantation, radiation therapy, or had oral complications due to the chemotherapy.