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National Cancer Institute  logo

Problems With Your Mouth Or Teeth

Many people who have been treated for cancer develop problems with their mouth or teeth. Some problems go away after treatment. Others last a long time, while some may never go away. Some problems may develop months or years after your treatment has ended.

Radiation or surgery to the head and neck can cause problems with your teeth and gums; the soft, moist lining of your mouth; glands that make saliva (spit); and jawbones. If you were treated with certain types of chemotherapy, you may also have these problems. This can cause:

  • Dry mouth
  • Cavities and other kinds of tooth problems
  • Loss of or change in sense of taste
  • Painful mouth and gums
  • Infections in your mouth
  • Jaw stiffness or jawbone changes
Who Has These Problems?
  • Almost all people who have had radiation therapy to the head and neck
  • Most people who have had bone marrow transplants
  • About two of every five people treated with chemotherapy
Getting Help With Your Mouth Or Teeth Problems

If you find that these problems persist after cancer treatment ends, talk to your doctor about possible causes and ways to control mouth pain.

Try to see your dentist soon after you are done with treatment. Ask how often you should have checkups and ways to take care of your mouth and teeth.

Tips: Preventing Or Relieving Mouth Or Teeth Problems

Keep your mouth moist.
  • Drink a lot of water.
  • Suck on ice chips.
  • Chew sugarless gum or suck on sugar-free hard candy.
  • Use a saliva substitute to help moisten your mouth.

Keep your mouth clean.

  • Brush your teeth, gums, and tongue with an extra-soft toothbrush after every meal and at bedtime. If it hurts, soften the bristles in warm water.
  • Ask your dentist for tooth sponges, such as Toothettes® or Dentips®, that you can use in place of a toothbrush.
  • Use a mild fluoride toothpaste (like a children's toothpaste) and a mouthwash without alcohol.
  • Floss your teeth gently every day. If your gums bleed or hurt, stay away from the areas that are bleeding or sore, but keep flossing your other teeth.
  • Rinse your mouth several times a day with a solution of 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1/8 teaspoon salt in one cup of warm water. Follow with a plain water rinse.
  • If you have dentures, clean, brush, and rinse them after meals. Have your dentist check them to make sure they still fit you well.

If your mouth is sore, remember to stay away from:

  • Sharp, crunchy foods, like taco chips, that could scrape or cut your mouth
  • Foods that are hot, spicy, or high in acid, like citrus fruits and juices, which can irritate your mouth
  • Sugary foods, like candy or soda, that could cause cavities
  • Toothpicks (they can cut your mouth)
  • All tobacco products
  • Alcoholic drinks

Aetna Members: If you would like more information about breast cancer and breast cancer prevention, please call (888) 322 8742.

Miembros de Aetna: Si desean mayor información sobre el cáncer de seno y sobre su prevención por favor llame al (888) 322 8742.

Last updated July 9, 2010




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