Teeth and mouth care | Health and Wellbeing | Head and Neck Cancer Australia

Treatments for head and neck cancer, especially radiation therapy, can cause side effects to your teeth and mouth, such as:

  • dry mouth

  • an increase in ulcers or inflammation in your mouth (mucositis)

  • changes in taste

  • being unable to fully open your mouth (trismus)

  • tooth decay

  • infected or bleeding gums

  • breakdown of tissue or bone in some areas of the mouth.

These side effects may hurt and make it difficult to eat, talk or swallow. It is important to take care of your teeth and mouth during head and neck cancer treatment because infections can be harmful and slow down your treatment. Some side effects can last for a long time after treatment (late effects).

What can I do to keep my teeth and mouth healthy?

There are a number of things that you can do to keep your teeth and mouth healthy.

  • Drink plenty of water and chew sugar-free chewing gum to keep your mouth moist.

  • Gently brush your teeth, gums and tongue with a soft toothbrush after every meal and at bed time.

  • Gently floss your teeth every day.

  • Use high-strength fluoride toothpaste.

  • Use an alcohol-free mouthwash.

Where can I find support?
A dentist is important member of your cancer care team before, during and after head and neck cancer treatment as side effects can often be prevented or reduced through regular dental check-ups.

  • It is a good idea to have a dental check-up before you start treatment. Your dentist will check the health of your mouth and teeth and give you a plan to keep your mouth healthy. Sometimes teeth that are decayed and unhealthy need to be removed before radiation therapy to reduce the risk of problems after treatment.

  • During your treatment, your dentist will look out for any mouth side effects that you have. 

After your treatment, you should visit the dentist every six months for a check-up because the side effects of radiation therapy on your teeth can last for your whole life.