Oral Effects of Head and Neck Cancer Treatment

August 16, 2021 by admin0

Your mouth can be affected by head and neck cancer treatment in a number of ways: oral sores, dry mouth, tooth decay, and infections such as thrush. Good home care, such as brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and cleaning between your teeth daily, will go a long way toward protecting your mouth. Here are some tips to try if you develop any of these side effects.


Oral sores are common during cancer therapy. They can range from redness to an actual open sore. Your dentist may help you manage this discomfort with a numbing cream or gel that you can apply to the affected area. This gel or cream can help numb the area or at least reduce the pain. Let your dentist know if you develop a sore.


A dry mouth is also common during and after therapy for head and neck cancer. This is because the salivary glands, which produce saliva that keeps your mouth moist, can be damaged by the treatment. Here are some things you can try to make yourself more comfortable:

  • chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free candies, which may help increase the flow of saliva
  • sip water at mealtime to aid in swallowing
  • suck -do not chew on ice chips.

Alcohol, including alcohol-containing mouth rinses, can be drying to your mouth, so avoid it. Let your dentist know if dry mouth is becoming a problem for you. He or she might recommend the use of an artificial saliva.


The risk of developing tooth decay is higher than usual in people who are undergoing head and neck cancer treatment. This is because of the reduced salivary flow. Saliva not only washes food particles away from teeth and gums, but it can also contain the cavity fighter fluoride. Saliva bathes the teeth in fluoride, making the outside layer of the tooth harder. With limited saliva flow and reduced fluoride, teeth are at higher risk of developing tooth decay. Your dentist may be able to help you protect your teeth. There are mouth rinses and toothpastes that have a high fluoride content that he or she can prescribe. There are also fluoride gel treatments that can be given in the dental office. Your dentist can talk with you about which approach would be best.


Make your dentist a part of your treatment team as soon as possible. If you can, see your dentist before your cancer treatment begins. Your dentist can help ensure that you do not have an oral infection that could complicate your cancer therapy. In addition, your dentist is knowledgeable about your dental health; this could be helpful during your cancer treatment. He or she has a good understanding of the effects cancer treatment can have on the mouth and how to treat them.


Head and neck cancer treatment frequently affects the mouth from oral sores to dry mouth to cavities to oral infections. People who are undergoing such treatment should bring their dentist onto the treatment team as soon as possible. The dentist can help ensure that the mouth is in good health before the cancer treatment begins and can help manage oral side effects once treatment is underway and after it ends

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