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Tips to keep your mouth healthy during cancer care

GEHA | June 23, 2022

See your dentist to help prevent mouth problems.

If you or a loved one are being treated with chemotherapy for cancer, it is important to know that some side effects from this treatment can impact oral health. Common oral side effects of cancer treatment include change in taste and dry mouth.

The chemotherapy drugs used to kill cancer cells can also hurt normal cells. This can lead to several potential problems in the mouth, including:

  • Difficulty while eating, talking or swallowing
  • Increased likelihood of oral infection
  • Problems with teeth, gums and the glands that produce saliva

It is important to see your dentist before chemotherapy treatment begins. This visit can help prevent existing problems from developing into pain in the mouth, tongue and gums, which may complicate cancer care. Your dentist will also be able to clean and check your teeth, resolve any existing problems and show how to care for your mouth to prevent possible side effects.

If you’ve already started chemotherapy treatment and haven’t seen your dentist, it is still important to schedule an appointment. This way, your dentist can look for any developing problems and talk through how to help prevent future issues.

Here are some ways to keep your mouth healthy during treatment:

  • Keep your mouth moist. Drink water, suck ice chips, use sugarless gum or sugar-free hard candy or a saliva substitute to help moisten your mouth.
  • Clean your mouth, teeth and gums. Brush with an extra-soft toothbrush before bed and after every meal, using a fluoride toothpaste. Floss gently every day. Rinse with a solution of ¼ teaspoon of salt or 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 8 ounces of warm water several times a day. Follow this with a rinse of plain water. Avoid mouthwashes with alcohol. Talk to your dentist if you have dentures that don’t fit well.
    • Take care with oral care products to avoid damaging the gums. For example, a toothpick can easily lead to cuts the mouth. Clean your mouth the best you are able. By cleaning your teeth and gums, you reduce the bacterial challenge to your body.
  • Watch what you eat and drink. Choose nutritious foods that are easy to chew and swallow. Take small bites, chew slowly and drink liquids while you eat. Soften food with gravy, sauces, broth, yogurt or other liquids, if you have trouble swallowing. Try soft, moist foods, such as cooked cereal, mashed potatoes and scrambled eggs.
  • Avoid harsh foods. Stay away from sharp, crunchy foods that can scrape or cut the mouth, such as chips. Skip spicy or acidic foods such as hot sauce or citrus fruits that can irritate the mouth. Also stay clear of sugary foods or drinks that could cause cavities.

If your mouth starts hurting, call both your health care provider and oncologist. This will help ensure everyone is on the same page. They will determine what is causing the pain and treat this condition.

Children who receive chemotherapy treatment can also have side effects that impact oral health. Possible side effects include tooth loss, delayed arrival of permanent teeth, permanent teeth that form differently than other teeth. Schedule an appointment with your child’s dentist and ask what you can do to help with your child’s oral care.

To find an in-network dental provider near you, use our Find Care tool.

The information contained herein is for informational and educational purposes only. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice and if you have questions regarding a medical condition, regimen, or treatment you should always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider. Never disregard or delay seeking medical advice from a qualified medical professional because of information you have read herein.

“Chemotherapy and Your Mouth.”, National Institutes of Health, August, 2013.