Cancer Home > Mouth and Gum Problems During Chemotherapy

Because of the risk of mouth and gum problems during chemotherapy, it is important for cancer patients to maintain good oral care. Chemotherapy drugs can make these tissues dry and irritated, or cause them to bleed. Some suggestions for keeping your mouth and gums healthy during chemotherapy include brushing your teeth and gums with a soft toothbrush after every meal, rinsing your toothbrush well after each use and storing it in a dry place, and avoiding mouthwashes that contain any alcohol.

An Overview of Mouth and Gum Problems During Chemotherapy

Good oral care is important during cancer treatment. Some chemotherapy drugs can cause sores in the mouth and throat, a condition called stomatitis or mucositis. Chemotherapy drugs can also make these tissues dry and irritated, or cause them to bleed. People who have not been eating well since the beginning of chemotherapy treatment are more likely to get mouth sores.
In addition to being painful, mouth sores can become infected by the many germs that live in the mouth. Every step should be taken to prevent infections, as they can be hard to fight during chemotherapy and can lead to serious problems.

Keeping the Mouth and Gums Healthy During Chemotherapy

Below are some suggestions for keeping your mouth and gums healthy during chemotherapy:
  • Talk with your healthcare provider about seeing your dentist at least several weeks before you start chemotherapy. You may need to have your teeth cleaned and take care of any problems, such as cavities, gum abscesses, gum disease, or poorly fitting dentures. Ask your dentist to show you the best ways to brush and floss your teeth during chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can make you more likely to get cavities, so your dentist may suggest using a fluoride rinse or gel each day to help prevent decay.
  • Brush your teeth and gums after every meal. Use a soft toothbrush and a gentle touch. Brushing too hard can damage soft mouth tissues. Ask your healthcare provider, nurse, or dentist to suggest a special toothbrush and/or toothpaste if your gums are very sensitive. Rinse with warm salt water after meals and before bedtime.
  • Rinse your toothbrush well after each use and store it in a dry place.
  • Avoid mouthwashes that contain any amount of alcohol. Ask your healthcare provider or nurse to suggest a mild or medicated mouthwash that you might use. For example, mouthwash with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) is non-irritating.
  • If you develop sores in your mouth, tell your healthcare provider or nurse. You may need medicine to treat the sores. If the sores are painful or keep you from eating, you can try the following suggestions.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;
Last updated/reviewed:
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