More than one-third of all cancer patients develop complications that affect the mouth, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. These mild to severe side effects can include mouth sores, infection, dry mouth, sensitive gums and jaw pain.
Your mouth health is an important part of your overall health, so make your dentist part of your cancer care team. If you don’t have a regular dentist, use the ADA Find-A-Dentist tool to search for an ADA member dentist in your area.
How Cancer Affects Your Mouth
Cancer and its treatments, like chemotherapy, can weaken your immune system. If your mouth is not as healthy as possible prior to your cancer treatment, you may be more susceptible to infection. If the infection is serious enough, it can delay your cancer treatment.
In addition, radiation therapy, especially in the area of the head and neck, can damage salivary glands which can cause thick, sticky saliva and extreme dry mouth. A dry mouth can increase your chances of tooth decay and infection.
Your 3-Step Cancer Action Plan
Maintaining your mouth at its best health before, during and after cancer treatment could help lessen some side effects and allow you to focus on your overall healing. Here’s what to do during each phase of your treatment: