Frequently Asked Questions
 
Questions
 
1.  How many people diagnosed with cancer experience oral complications from cancer treatment?
 
2.  If a dentist could give a cancer patient just one piece of advice, what would it be?
 
3.  What are some of the common oral complications from cancer treatment?
 
4.  Should my dentist be involved with my cancer treatment?
 
5.  How should I manage my oral health before I begin cancer treatment?
 
6.  How should I manage my oral health during and after cancer treatment?
 
7.  I can no longer tolerate the taste of my toothpaste, what can I do?
 
8.  What can I do to provide relief for my dry mouth?
 
Answers
1.  How many people diagnosed with cancer experience oral complications from cancer treatment?
 

An estimated 400,000 of the 1.2 million Americans diagnosed with cancer each year may develop painful and debilitating oral complications from their cancer treatment (Oral Health Topics:  Cancer Treatment and Oral Health, ADA.org, www.ada.org/public/topics/cancer_treatment.asp). 

 
2.  If a dentist could give a cancer patient just one piece of advice, what would it be?
 

Patients who undergo cancer treatment sometimes are unaware that it can affect the teeth, gums, salivary glands and other oral tissues.  Scheduling a dental examination is a critical step in maintaining their overall health (Oral Health Topics:  Cancer Treatment and Oral Health, ADA.org, www.ada.org/public/topics/cancer_treatment.asp).

 
3. What are some common oral complications from cancer treatment?
 

Chemotherapy and radiation treatment can cause several oral side effects:

  • inflammation and ulceration of the mucous membranes
  • painful mouth and gums
  • an increase in the risk of developing oral and systemic infections
  • xerostomia
  • rampant tooth decay
  • burning, peeling or swelling tongue
  • stiffness in the jaw
  • impaired ability to eat, speak or swallow
  • change in ability to taste
  • poor diet because of problems with eating (Oral care for cancer patients, JADA, Vol. 133, July 2002, p.1014)

4.  Should my dentist be involved with my cancer treatment?
 

In some cases, patients delay or stop their cancer treatment because they experience painful side effects in their mouths.  To help prevent, minimize and manage such problems, your dentist and oncologist can work together before, during and after your treatment (Oral care for cancer patients, JADA, Vol. 133, July 2002, p.1014).

 
5.   How should I manage my oral health before I begin cancer treatment?
 

When possible, schedule a thorough dental checkup at least two weeks before treatment begins.  At this visit, you can update your medical history record and provide the telephone number for the physician who is handling the cancer therapy(Oral care for cancer patients, JADA, Vol. 133, July 2002, p.1014).

 
6.  How should I manage my oral health during and after cancer treatment?
 

During Cancer treatment, you should continue to gently brush teeth twice a day unless the dentist recommends otherwise.  You should use fluoride toothpaste and look for products that display the American Dental Association's Seal of Acceptance.

Continue to gently floss once a day.  If the gums are sore or bleeding in places, you should avoid those areas but continue to floss other teeth until the condition improves.

Your dentist may recommend a mouthrinse in addition to daily brushing.  You also may be advised to sue fluoride gel at home to help reduce the likelihood of tooth decay.

Rinse your mouth several times a day with a solution of baking soda and salt, followed by a plain water rinse.  Use one-quarter teaspoon of baking soda and one-eighth teaspoon of salt in one cup of warm water.  This is particularly helpful if you experience vomiting after cancer treatment.

Eat a balanced diet.  Soft moist foods such as cooked cereals, mashed potatoes and scrambled eggs may be suitable if your mouth is sore.

Avoid using tobacco and alcohol and schedule regular dental checkups.  Your dentist and physician both want you treatment to be as safe and effective as possible (Oral care for cancer patients, JADA, Vol. 133, July 2002, p.1014).

 
7.  I can no longer tolerate the taste of my toothpaste, what can I do?
 

Patients who receive cancer treatment of the head and neck sometimes discover that they cannot tolerate the flavor of their regular toothpaste.  If this happens to you, you can try another flavor that will not irritate mouth tissues (Oral care for cancer patients, JADA, Vol. 133, July 2002, p.1014).

 
8.  What can I do to provide relief for my dry mouth?
 

If xerostomia, or dry mouth, developsyour dentist may recommend a saliva replacement, available at pharmacies.  Taking frequent sips of water, sucking on ice chips or sugar-free candy, or chewing sugar-free gum may provide relief (Oral care for cancer patients, JADA, Vol. 133, July 2002, p.1014).