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Cancer treatments and their impact on teeth, gums and the mouth

When you hear the diagnosis of cancer, your mind starts reeling of what to do, treatment options, etc.  But what you often aren’t aware of is many times those treatments can impact your oral health.  Even diseases and conditions that aren’t cancer but use similar treatments can impact your teeth, gums and bone.

According to the National Cancer Institute, oral complications are common in cancer patients, especially those with head and neck cancer.  Due to the nature of the mouth and the good and bad bacteria in it and the nature of bone and tissue regrowth to keep the mouth healthy; chemotherapy, when concentrated in the areas of the head and neck, can negatively affect the patient’s mouth health.  The reason being, according to the NCI is:

These cancer treatments slow or stop the growth of fast growing cells, such as cancer cells. Normal cells in the lining of the mouth also grow quickly, so anticancer treatment can stop them from growing, too. This slows down the ability of oral tissue to repair itself by making new cells.

  • Radiation therapy may directly damage and break down oral tissue, salivary glands, and bone.
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy upset the healthy balance of bacteria in the mouth.

There are many different kinds of bacteria in the mouth. Some are helpful and some are harmful. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may cause changes in the lining of the mouth and the salivary glands, which make saliva. This can upset the healthy balance of bacteria. These changes may lead to mouth sores, infections, and tooth decay.

This summary is about oral complications caused by chemotherapy and radiation therapy.


If you are preparing for cancer treatment, please come in and let us take at CT scan and review with your oncologist the best methods to keep your mouth healthy.  If you are in the process of treatments, we can work with you. If you are post treatment and have encountered issues with your gums, mouth or teeth, we can help.  Being a periodontist we are trained at the highest level of oral care and we will be able to give your smile a second chance so you can rejoice in your successful cancer treatments.

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