Oral Care for Cancer Treatment

Many cancer treatments have side effects that can affect the mouth, teeth, and salivary glands. This can be caused by the treatment damaging the cells that line your mouth and throat. Any damage is usually temporary, and most side effects improve when treatment ends, but sometimes side effects can be permanent.

Dental and oral side effects can make it difficult to eat, talk, chew, or swallow. Fortunately, with good care, you and your doctor can lower the risk of these side effects and manage them if they do happen. 

Some symptoms you may experience are:

  • Dry mouth
  • Thickened saliva
  • Changes in taste
  • Mouth sores
  • Tooth decay
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Infection
  • Bone disease
  • Inflammation or pain in the lining of the mouth and tongue
  • Gum disease
  • Jaw stiffness

People who have good dental health before treatment have a lower risk of these conditions. It is recommended to see a dentist 4 weeks before treatment starts, if you can. This will allow time for any infections or irritations to heal.

Your specialist nurse, doctor will talk to you about mouth care during treatment and may also look at your mouth. Make sure you tell them if you experience any of the symptoms above to prevent any infections. 

Try this homemade salt mouthwash that will help reduce soreness. (if it is not too severe)

  • Add 1 teaspoon of salt too cold or warm water.
  • Rinse this around your mouth.
  • Then spit it out and rinse your mouth with cold or warm water.

Tips to improve oral health:

Cleaning Teeth


  • Soak an extra-soft toothbrush in warm water to soften the bristles before brushing.
  • Gently brush your teeth 2 times a day.
  • Try using a child-size, soft toothbrush if your regular brush is uncomfortable.
  • If you want to use dental floss, check with your doctor or specialist nurse first. If you have a low platelet count, flossing can make your gums bleed.
  • If it hurts when you use a toothbrush, try using an oral cotton swab.
  • If you have dentures, carefully clean them. Try to give your gums a break by not wearing your dentures.
Bone Health
  • Having vitamin D and calcium each day helps your jaw and teeth stay strong and healthy.
  • Extremely hot, cold, spicy, acidic, or crunchy foods may irritate your mouth and lead to infections. 
  • Lower your sugar intake. The bacteria in your mouth use sugar to live, and this process makes the acid that causes tooth decay. 
Mouth Sores 
  • Talk to your healthcare team. Find out if there is medication that you can apply to the sores.
  • Avoid consuming foods or drinks that are hot or even warm. These can cause the sores to be even more painful.
  • Eat foods that are soft and easy to chew. Some examples include ice cream, applesauce, and scrambled eggs.
  • You can use a blender to make food easier to eat.
  • Eat and drink slowly.


Call your healthcare team if you have any of the symptoms below:

  • A fever of 100.4 °F (38 °C) or higher
  • New redness, sores, or white patches in your mouth
  • Bleeding of your gums or mouth
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Pain when you swallow
  • Pain that doesn’t get better with pain medication

Want to discover more tips? Read - 'Smell & Taste Changes during treatment'