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Cancer and Dental Health

Two hands and an IV

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, more than one-third of all cancer patients develop complications that affect the mouth. These mild to severe side effects can include mouth sores, infection, dry mouth, sensitive gums and jaw pain. 

Why are problems common for patients undergoing cancer treatment?

Cancer and its treatments 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. 

Make your dentist part of your cancer care team  

By visiting your dentist prior to your cancer treatment, he or she may be able to treat gum disease, tooth decay or other infections inside your mouth. The health of your mouth is an important part of your overall health. Maintaining it 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. 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.

To help you better understand how cancer can affect your dental health, the American Dental Association has three pages devoted to this topic. They are: