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Cancer can be a very difficult disease to deal with, not only because of the morbidity associated with it but also because the treatment itself is quite damaging to the normal body tissues. The two main forms of non-surgical cancer treatment involve the use of chemotherapeutic drugs and radiation therapy.

Both of these forms of drugs destroy cancer cells and as well as a number of the normal cells of the body. The race to develop highly targeted treatment modalities that only target the cancerous cells in the body is ongoing and while tremendous progress has been made, a lot more still needs to be done.

Effect of Chemotherapy and Radiation on the Teeth

The following signs and symptoms being described can be seen in patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation or both. The severity is the most in cases where both modalities of treatment have been utilized.

Radiation Mucositis

The gums, tongue, and the inside of the cheek make up the oral mucosa. All of this mucosa can get severely inflamed after a patient undergoes cancer treatment. Patients can complain of a burning sensation in their mouth, an inability tolerate any spicy food, being very sensitive to temperature changes (particularly hot food) and a sensation of constant gnawing inside the gums.

Tooth Decay

Patients that have had little to no problems in their mouth can suddenly find themselves affected by rampant tooth decay after undergoing cancer treatment. The reason behind this occurrence is often attributed to a breakdown of the teeth but that is not true. It is actually the decrease in saliva production and a change in the population of the bacteria that inhabit the mouth that causes this decay.

Patients that are suffering from severe dryness of the mouth are very susceptible to developing decay and should be treated aggressively by the dentist to prevent this from happening.

Gum Disease

A change in the oral bacterial population also causes the rapid development and spread of gum disease. It must be realized that cancer treatment itself also causes a lot of stress on the immune system and can lead to a development of many opportunistic infections.

The spread of gum disease may be accompanied by symptoms such as loose teeth, bleeding from the gums, a bad odor from the mouth, and shifting of teeth from their otherwise normal positions.

Mouth ulcers

The oral mucosa, particularly the inner lining of the cheek, can become very susceptible to damage after cancer treatment. This means that even small injuries from a prosthetic device, crown, braces, or just a sharp edge on the teeth can lead to the development of painful ulcers.

These ulcers can take a long time to heal and may even be life-threatening in certain cases.

Inability to chew

The lack of saliva production in the mouth can make it very difficult to chew food and to swallow it. Patients will often complain of pain in their throat and a difficulty in digesting food because they are unable to break it down properly in the mouth.


Cancer treatment can be very difficult for patients because it affects the quality of their lives. While oral treatment to prevent such symptoms from occurring in the first place do not get much importance, they must be considered in order to ensure that the patient can have a healthy and fulfilling life after they have beaten cancer.



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