Common Effects of Oral Cancer Treatment on the Mouth

Common Effects of Oral Cancer Treatment on the Mouth

Hearing your doctor say the word “cancer” is a scary thing for any patient. When it comes to oral cancer, the American Cancer Society estimates that more than 51,000 people will be diagnosed this year. Know that you are not alone in your fight, and treatment is available.

Like many other cancers, there are multiple types of treatment available for oral cancer, two of which include chemotherapy and radiation therapy. While these can successfully aid in treating cancer, side effects can occur in your mouth. Seeing your dentist in conjunction with your oncologist before and during therapy can help minimize these effects and your discomfort.

Before starting treatment, your dentist will conduct an exam to inform you of any areas in the mouth that are infected or likely to cause an infection. Any necessary treatment will be completed at this time. Once treatment begins, your dentist will place you on a daily fluoride regimen to help combat dry month.

Dry mouth occurs when your body does not produce enough saliva. It can make swallowing and eating difficult. It also can create issues due to the major role saliva plays in protecting your teeth against cavities, beginning the digestive process and immune defense.

  • Drinking enough water throughout the day is very important; however, this will not replace the moist feeling from your saliva.
  • Many products are available to help with dry mouth such as rinses, chewing gum, lozenges and sprays. Rinses are great for bedtime or in the morning.
  • Chewing gum and lozenges help stimulate salivation. Sprays are good options to use throughout the day to help moisten your mouth.

Patients undergoing cancer therapy may also experience mucositis, which is inflammation and ulceration of the tissues in the mouth. The pain level for mucositis can range from being uncomfortable to hardly being able to swallow food. The best solution to helping with mucositis is prevention. If you have a lot of metal restorations in your mouth, ask your dentist and oncologist about a mouth piece to wear during radiation to help inhibit localized mucositis.

Mucositis is less intense in a clean mouth. This begins with getting your cleaning done at the dental office and continues with daily flossing and brushing. Mucositis may make flossing uncomfortable during treatment. If it is too painful, you may want to consider getting a water pick. Additionally, you will want to rinse with sodium bicarbonate solution at least five times a day to rinse away any food debris.

Patients may also experience dysgeusia, or a loss of taste. Talking to your dentist about any problems you are experiencing with your mouth before, during and after treatment is important. The journey of battling cancer is tough and adding your dentist to your support group can help.

If you would like to be screened for oral cancer or have questions about treatment, call Marshall Dentistry & Oral Surgery at 304-691-1247.


Angela Carbaugh, DDS

Dr. Carbaugh is a graduate of West Virginia University School of Dentistry and is currently a resident dentist with Marshall Dentistry & Oral Surgery.

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