The mouth is a truly remarkable place with many functions, including talking, swallowing and helping us taste food. But what can happen to the mouth when you undergo treatment for cancer?
Some oncology treatments, including chemotherapy and radiotherapy to the head or neck can have side-effects on the mouth, and whilst some are temporary, others might persist for some time.
Some of the side effects that can affect the mouth include
Mouth sores - usually occur on the cheeks, tongue, floor of the mouth, and soft palate. Fortunately, most eventually heal on their own. However, it may be uncomfortable when you have one
- Stiff jaw - your jaw muscles may become stiff after radiation therapy
Dry mouth - drugs and radiation therapy to the head and neck can affect the salivary glands, reducing the quantity and consistency of saliva produced. Your mouth may feel dry because you are not producing enough saliva, or the saliva is of a poor ‘quality’
- Dental issues - saliva helps protect the hard and soft tissues of the mouth. If the oncology treatment has affected your saliva plaque can build up in the mouth, potentially leading to gum disease and tooth decay
Before you start treatment for your cancer, it is worth having a dental check-up to ensure your mouth is in good shape and dental issues are sorted.
To minimise the impact of any of the side effects it is worth:
- Avoiding spicy, hot or very acidic foods as these may irritate a sore mouth
- Avoiding coffee, alcohol and smoking as they can dry your mouth out further
- Taking good care of your mouth to keep it as healthy as possible. Brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste but avoid any products with alcohol or SLS [sodium lauryl sulfate] as these can irritate the mouth and dry it out further
- Using products to stimulate saliva – such as chewing gum or sugar-free sweets
- Considering saliva substitute products to ‘replace’ or supplement your natural saliva
If you experience any of these side effects or have concerns about the health of your mouth [before, during or after treatment] definitely speak with your dental or oncology team. They are only too happy to help and might be able to make your mouth more comfortable.
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