The importance of oral care during cancer treatment

Several cancer treatments, including radiotherapy and chemotherapy for the head and neck, can affect the mouth, teeth, and salivary glands. You may experience this if the treatment damages the cells lining your mouth and throat. Damage usually occurs temporarily, and most side effects disappear when treatment ends, but sometimes permanent effects can occur.

It may be difficult to eat, talk, chew, or swallow if you experience dental or oral side effects. With appropriate care, you and your doctor can lower the risk of these side effects and manage them if they do occur. 

The following symptoms may occur: 

  • 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

See a dentist before starting Cancer treatment 

These conditions are less likely to occur in people whose dental health is good before treatment. The most ideal time to schedule a dental appointment is four weeks before treatment begins. It will give time for infections or irritations to heal.

In addition to discussing mouth care with you, your specialist nurse or doctor may examine your mouth during treatment. It is extremely crucial to inform them if you experience any of the symptoms above in order to prevent any infections. 

Make your own salt mouthwash to relieve soreness

  • 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 aggravate your condition.
  • If it hurts when you brush with a toothbrush, try using an oral cotton swab.
  • If you have dentures, make sure you clean them thoroughly. 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 make the sores 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.


If you experience any of the following symptoms, contact your healthcare team immediately:


  • New redness, sores, or white patches in your mouth
  • A fever of 100.4 °F (38 °C) or higher
  • 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' 

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