How Radiation and Chemotherapy Affect Our Mouths

Most of us have known someone or heard of someone that has gone through treatment for cancer.  One thing that we may not think about is how radiation and chemotherapy affect our mouths.  Both treatments for cancer zone in on diseased cells but they also change normal cells which cause side effects.  They have similar oral effects and it’s best to know ahead of time that certain problems may occur and to be prepared as best you can.

How-Radiation-and_-Chemotherapy_-Affect-Our-MouthsChemotherapy when administered in high doses will affect 2/3’s of patients receiving it with side effects occurring in their mouths.  Low doses of chemotherapy will affect the mouths of approximately 1/3 of those receiving treatment 

Radiation, which is targeted to specific parts of the body where the cancer is located, will generally only affect patients’ mouths when they are treated in areas such as the head or neck.


The side affects that could be experienced and not limited to for both types of cancer treatment include:

  • Dry mouth

  • Mouth sores

  • Cavities

  • Infection

  • Difficulty swallowing due to inflammation

  • Loss of taste.

Everyone and every case is different, so not all people experience the same thing or may not experience them at all. Usually these symptoms come and go with treatment, but unfortunately, some can be permanent.

Request an AppointmentIf you have been told that you will be getting treated for cancer, it’s best to see your dentist to make sure that your mouth is as healthy as it can be prior to receiving treatment.  If there is anything that needs to be done, your dentist and medical provider will most likely want you to have it taken care of before you start management of your cancer so that is out of the way and will only help in your line of defense while under your doctor’s care.  It may also be suggested that you start swishing with a fluoride mouthwash to help with prevention of cavities which isn’t a bad idea for anyone to do, cancer or not.

Generally, keeping a clean healthy mouth and healthy body is good advice for anyone (see our blog: How Your Teeth Affect Your Heart)  but can only help you if you are being treated for cancer. Nutrition also plays a major role in how your body and mouth respond to certain things so don’t forget about that part of it too.  Have a discussion with your M.D. and D.D.S. so you can be as informed as possible and know what to expect as far as oral side effects during treatment of cancer. Even though it’s a tough time, it’s still important to see your dentist regularly to make sure you are doing everything you can while having your treatments and to nip things in the bud to keep you on the right track.

Information compiled from cancer.net, Stanford Medicine Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society and Staff at Szmanda Dental 2014.   photo credit: Nanley (Kate) via photopin cc