Guidelines to Implement During Cancer Treatment

8-Step Oral Cancer Screening

Blog Highlights:

Patients receiving cancer treatments are at risk of developing mild to severe dental problems

Chemotherapy can cause mouth sores, and severe cases of mouth sores can force your oncologist to delay your cancer treatments

Cancer treatments can damage the salivary gland causing mouth dryness

Cancer treatments can cause sensitivity to develop; its effect on patient’s immune system can also lead to the development of gum disease

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy, when directed to the head or neck area, can cause jaw pain which might be triggered by muscle tissue damage, or by teeth grinding as a result of stress

The weakening of the patient’s immune system as a result of cancer treatments can also lead to severe oral infections


When patients get cancer treatments, they are actually at risk of developing a wide array of dental conditions. Mild to severe dental side effects can occur especially when you already have poor dental health prior to getting the treatments.

Patients who already have a port, a small disc under the skin that gives easy access to chemotherapy medicines, should inform their dentists about it during their visit. This is because patients with a port may already be taking anticoagulants, which can lead to excessive bleeding during dental procedures.

Mouth Ulcers or Sores

Mouth sores are often caused by chemotherapy or radiation therapy in cancer patients. These ulcers form in the soft tissues within the mouth.

In many cases, the development of severe sores will call for a temporary delay in your cancer treatment. This is because chemotherapy will hinder your blood from being able to clot, causing you to bleed excessively from your mouth sores.

Bleeding as well as the intense pain caused by mouth sores can also hinder you from eating properly. This can have a huge impact on your overall health.

Why do Mouth Sores Develop in Cancer Patients Undergoing Treatment?

First of all, chemotherapy destroys rapidly growing cells; this can include the cells within your mouth. Another reason is that chemotherapy weakens your immune system, making you susceptible to different forms of infections.

Mouth Sore Remedies

Dentists can recommend topical creams to help provide relief for your mouth sores. Dentists can also provide you with coating films to protect the mouth sores from more damage, and painkillers to help decrease the pain.

Brushing and Flossing

Dentists also recommend that you brush your teeth with a soft-bristled toothbrush. You should also brush your mouth thoroughly, and you can also use toothpastes that contain Allantoin and Aloe Vera to give your mouth soothing relief. Dentists will also recommend that you floss once a day to limit the infection by removing plaques.

Rinsing your Mouth Often

Rinsing allows you to remove food debris and bacteria from your mouth. This is another step that you need to do in order to lessen your risk of infection, as well as to help mouth sores heal as quickly as possible.

In lieu of alcohol-based mouth rinses, you can use salt and baking soda to help relieve mouth sores instead. Here are some mixtures that you can use:

  • You can use a teaspoon of salt dissolved in 4 cups of water
  • A teaspoon of baking soda in a cup of water
  • Or half a teaspoon of salt combined with 4 teaspoons of baking soda in 4 cups of water

Minding what you eat

Mouth sores can be very painful; this is why it is crucial that you avoid eating foods that are spicy or acidic. One has to stay away from citrus fruits, alcoholic drinks or acidic beverages. You should also consider avoiding foods that are too tough to chew and hard to eat.

Dry mouth Issues

Dry mouth is caused by the lack of saliva. It typically comes as a result of chemotherapy and treatments which are directed to the head and neck area.

Why is it Common in Cancer Patients Undergoing Treatment?

Some medications that cancer patients take can result in the decreased production of saliva. It is also possible for chemotherapy or radiation therapy to damage the salivary gland, significantly decreasing the amount of saliva that it can produce.

Relief Options

  • Drink Water, lots of water!

To help you deal with dry mouth issues, the best thing that you can do is to increase your intake of water daily. You have to avoid alcoholic or acidic beverages so that you can avoid dryness. You can however, eat sugar-free candies and gum to coax your glands to help make your mouth moist.

Maintaining Good Oral hygiene

Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day are necessary to help minimize bacteria and preserve your mouth from disease.

See your Dentist

As soon as you start having a dry mouth, you need to see your dentist right away. The dentist can recommend that you use artificial saliva to help you deal with the dryness, and he or she can also provide you with fluoride gels or rinses to help combat tooth decay and other problems.

Gum Disease and Sensitivity

Chemotherapy or radiation therapy can oftentimes cause minor swelling to develop on the gums. This can trigger pain and sensitivity on the affected areas within the mouth. Gum disease on the other hand, can occur whenever there is a severe infection brought about by the presence of bacteria as well as a weakened immune system. Gum disease is can lead to the loss of teeth as well as to painful swelling and bleeding.

Are Gum disease and Sensitivity a Major Concern?

Patients who are undergoing chemotherapy or getting bone marrow transplants have weakened immune systems. Since the mouth is naturally home to different microbes, it can be very easy for sensitivity to develop. As a matter of fact, without a good immune system, minor problems within the mouth can easily turn into a full blown gum disease.

Dealing with Gum disease and Sensitivity

  • See your Dentist ASAP!

If these problems develop during the course of your cancer treatment, you need to see your dentist and have your doctor provide you with an effective treatment plan. Your dentist may prescribe you with

steroid rinses as well as topical anti-inflammatory creams so that you can recover from the pain and swelling as fast as possible.

  • Flossing and Brushing your Teeth

Having sensitivity and gum disease can be very painful. However, it does not excuse you from accomplishing your oral hygiene regimen. You need to brush your teeth and gums as gently as possible with the help of a toothbrush with extra soft bristles. If these soft bristles are still too hard for you, you can soak them in warm water to soften them further. You should also floss your teeth once a day, flossing only the areas that are not swollen or bleeding.

Rinsing your mouth often

Not only is rinsing able to get rid of bacteria, it can also be used to soothe the pain. It is crucial that you avoid alcohol-based or concentrated mouthwashes so that you will not burn sores, or open infections.

You can use natural mouth washes, or make your own using the formulations given by the NIH:

  • Combine 2 tablespoons of baking soda and half a teaspoon of salt in four cups of water
  • Add a teaspoon of baking soda in a cup of water
  • Dissolve a teaspoon of salt in four cups of water

Pain on the Jaws

Jaw pain is another common problem that a lot of patients who are getting cancer treatments go through. Jaw pain typically occurs when you are getting treatment for your head or neck area.

Causes of Jaw pain

The pain felt on the jaws, the ears, or on the sides of the head may be caused by scarring or muscle inflammation as you go through chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Since these treatments often put a lot of stress on the body, it is also possible for it to be caused by teeth grinding during sleep.

Treating Jaw Pain

Jaw pain caused by grinding can be remedied by asking your dentist for muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory medications. The dentist can also recommend the use of mouth guards that you can put on before you sleep to avoid damaging your teeth further.

Jaw pain caused by muscle damage on the other hand, can be remedied by exercising your mouth and jaws daily. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research suggest that you exercise your jaws by opening it as far as you can without pain and then closing it, repeating the process for 20 minutes three times daily.

Oral Infections

Oral infections can be seen in many different forms. It can present itself as swelling and bleeding of the gums, it can also be seen as mouth sores or a thick white film within the mouth. Seeing your dentist is very important whenever traces of infections are present.

Why does it happen?

As mentioned, chemotherapy and radiation treatments can weaken your immune system. Minor infections can easily take a turn for the worse without your body’s defenses. As a matter of fact, without help from proper oral hygiene, proper diet, as well as medication from your dentists, infections can be very difficult to heal.

What must be done to get rid of oral infections?

  • Have it Checked by your Dentist

Oral infections must be checked by the dentist right away. Antibacterial and antifungal products can be prescribed to you to help remedy it in the soonest time possible. The dentist can also provide you with different treatments that can help put the infection under control

  • Observe and maintain proper Oral hygiene

Brushing your teeth must be done twice a day. Using a toothbrush with very soft bristles will help you clean your teeth and avoid pain at the same time. You should also use fluoride toothpastes or toothpaste that contains Aloe Vera and Allantoin so you can limit the infection and provide soothing relief for your teeth and gums. Flossing must be done once a day, but you must avoid flossing areas that have open infections, swelling, or bleeding.

  • Rinsing your Mouth

Rinsing can help limit the spread of infection, it can help eliminate bacteria, and it can also help remove acids and make your teeth and gums much stronger. You do have to use gentle mouthwashes to avoid stinging your mouth. You can also refer to the formula previously given so that you can make your own homemade mouth wash.