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Surgerychemotherapy and radiation therapy or a combination of treatments can cause side effects that affect the mouth area. This can happen even if you have treatment to cancer in a different part of your body.  

While having problems that affect your mouth can be difficult, most changes gradually improve and disappear after treatment. 

Is there anything I can do before treatment?   

Good oral care is important and can help protect your teeth, reduce discomfort and help your mouth heal more quickly.  

Your dentist can check your mouth and teeth before cancer treatment and may try to plan for any dental work. It may not be recommended to have dental work during your treatment as there may be a higher risk of bleeding or infection.  

Some things you can do before treatment starts to help take care of your mouth include: 

  • quitting smoking  
  • eating a nutritious and balanced diet with a variety of food from the five food groups such as fruit and vegetables, meat (or alternatives), wholegrains and dairy (or alternatives) 
  • talking to your dentist or healthcare team for advice on how to best care for your mouth during and after treatment.  

What are the oral side effects caused by cancer treatment?  

Cancer treatment can lead to a number of side effect that affect your mouth. These can include: 

  • soreness, ulcers or a dry mouth 
  • tooth decay 
  • bleeding gums 
  • mouth infections 
  • taste changes 
  • trouble swallowing and fully opening your mouth.  

How can I take care of my mouth during treatment?  

Side effects that affect your mouth can have an impact on the type of food you eat, your nutrition and general health and can be hard to deal with. 

It is important to try to continue a nutritious diet as this helps your body recover from cancer treatment. Read Cancer Council’s Nutrition and Cancer and Understanding Taste and Smell Changes for further information.  

Some tips that may help you manage oral side effects include: 

  • keep your mouth clean – rinse your mouth every time you eat or drink something; clean dentures after use; use a soft toothbrush; check with your dentist if it is okay to floss 
  • keep your mouth moist – stay hydrated; limit caffeinated drinks like tea, coffee and energy drinks; suck on ice chips; use lip balm on your lips 
  • manage painful eating – take pain medications as prescribed; choose soft, moist foods; avoid things that can irritate your mouth like hard, spicy, salty or very hot foods; drink through a straw if you have sores. 

Where can I get reliable help and information? 

Keep your doctor informed about any mouth side effects you experience. 

You can also call Cancer Council 13 11 20 to talk to one of our trained professionals.  

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