Dental care & cancer


When someone is first diagnosed with cancer, I can pretty much guarantee that dental care is one of the last things running through their mind.  But here’s the dealio (as my daughter always says)

Existing dental problems can worsen as a result of cancer treatments.   And chemo & radiation can cause new oral complications to arise, some of which may continue long after therapy ends.

Dr. Dennis Abbott of Dental Oncology Professionals of North Texas explains it like this “Chemo and radiation cause changes in the lining of the mouth and reduce saliva production leading to mouth sores, infections and tooth decay. Ulcers and lesions can become so severe that patients often find it too painful to eat, chew or swallow and may even have to postpone or reschedule their cancer treatments because the pain becomes unbearable.”

According to the National Cancer Institute, “eliminating pre-existing dental and mucosal infections and instituting a comprehensive oral hygiene protocol before and throughout therapy can reduce the severity and frequency of oral complications from cancer therapy.”

So what’s a patient to do?  BE PROACTIVE…  And read these tips below to help you manage dental issues before, during and after cancer treatment (courtesy of Cure Magazine & Dr. Dennis Abbott)

  • Try to schedule a dental exam at least two weeks before beginning treatment.
  • Ask your medical team whether you need to take care of any pre-existing dental issues or mucosal infections before starting therapy.
  • Ask your dentist to help create a comprehensive oral hygiene protocol before and throughout therapy.
  •  Inform your dentist about your cancer treatment, especially if it contains bisphosphonates or RANK ligand inhibitors. These bone-strengthening drugs have about a 2 percent risk of osteonecrosis of the jaw, which can result when the bone tissue in the jaw doesn’t receive enough blood supply and begins to weaken and die. Most cases occur after a dental extraction.
  •  If you do need dental treatment during therapy, make sure your dentist and oncology team are communicating. Dental procedures should be done when your white blood cell count is high to help prevent infection.
  •  If dental surgery, such as a tooth extraction, is recommended after bisphosphonate or RANK ligand treatment, ask if there are other alternatives. If not, you may need a surgeon who has experience in treating cancer patients and survivors. Ask your current dentist or medical team to recommend a dental surgeon.
  • Ask what side effects you can expect with your cancer treatment. Your oncologist or nurse may be able to suggest medications to stimulate saliva production, topical antimicrobials or antiseptics to help you manage side effects of therapy.  *** is a great resource to help patients understand the potential side effects & contraindications of the different chemotherapy drugs.

About Robyn Stoller

Founder of, Robyn Stoller is a patient advocate and champion. Just last year she lost her 47-year-old husband Alan to cancer, but has put their journey to work for others. At each crossroad—from finding the best doctors with the right mentality to accessing obscure (and amazing!) resources—Robyn's gift for research, networking and tireless advocacy and a lot of luck led to just the right places. Now, Robyn’s mission is to help patients and caregivers touched by cancer find the information they need to make informed choices. To get straightforward answers to the questions you haven't yet asked with a dose of humility and humor, visit…the REAL deal for cancer patients & their caregivers.

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  • ElizabethW

    Thank you so much for bringing attention to this topic!

    In addition, CURE and Dr. Abbott will be hosting a Facebook chat on April 12 at 12 p.m. CST to answer questions on dental care during and after therapy. We hope the Cancer Support Community will be able to join us.

    You can RSVP or submit questions in advance at Thanks!
    Elizabeth Whittington, CURE

  • Jenearp26

    I’ve read this before, too. Any time you are not taking care of yourself, whether it be a minor cold or dental concerns, your immunity system weakens….which means your cancer treatment will not be as successful.

  • Martina Salvador

    This blog is really very valuable especially to those who have family history of cancer as this predispose them to develop the disease more easily. Dental health is really very important in all ages. It is very important that we include dental health in health insurances to assure us optimal health in all aspects. Gum diseases, dry mouth and patches inside the oral mucosa is sometimes developed because of weakened immune system thereby predisposing a person to oral cancer, or in some cases these oral disorders may already be indicative of cancer; this is also what the mcallen dentist is aiming for, the best possible oral health for everyone through oral cancer screening.