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Effects of Cancer Treatment on Oral Health

Many possible oral complications can result from chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

The complications and side effects of chemotherapy and radiation arise in various forms and degrees of severity depending on the individual and the treatment. Oral complications can compromise your health, lead to serious infections and affect your ability to complete your treatment on schedule. Proper oral care can prevent or reduce the incidence and severity of these complications enhancing both your survival and quality of life.

The most common oral side effects of cancer treatment include:

Mouth Sores (Oral Mucositis) – An inflammation and ulceration of the gums, it usually appears as red burn-like sores or ulcer-like sores in the mouth. Mouth sores may be caused by either radiation or chemotherapy treatment; they may lead to infection and bleeding and can cause trouble eating and breathing.

Infection – Damage to the lining of the mouth and a weakened immune system make it easier for infection to occur. Mouth sores break down the lining of the mouth which allows bacteria to get into the blood. When the immune system is weakened by chemotherapy, even the good bacteria in the mouth can cause infections.

Bleeding Gums – Chemotherapy can cause a lower-than-normal number of platelets in the blood. This can cause problems with the body’s blood clotting process. Bleeding may be mild (small red spots on the lips, soft palate, or bottom of the mouth) or severe, especially at the gum line and from ulcers in the mouth. Areas of gum disease may bleed spontaneously or when irritated by eating, brushing, or flossing.

Dry Mouth (Xerostomia) – Dry Mouth occurs when the salivary glands don’t make enough saliva. When this happens the mouth gets dry. Saliva is needed for taste, swallowing and speech. It helps prevent infection and tooth decay by cleaning the teeth and gums and reducing acid in the mouth.

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