Dental Health After Cancer Therapy

Dava Szalda, MD MSHP
Last Modified: October 28, 2016

What’s the risk?

Dental health means the health of teeth and roots of permanent teeth. It is thought that both chemotherapy and radiation may affect dental health over time.

Specifically, we know radiation can cause loss of saliva (dry mouth) if it is in the area that affects the glands that produce saliva. This loss of saliva can result in more rapid tooth decay.

Children/ adolescents who received radiation or chemotherapy prior to the development of permanent teeth are at risk for a failure of teeth to develop or root and enamel abnormalities.

Rarely, patients who received radiation to the jaw are at risk for osteoradionecrosis of the jawbone. This complication is an inability of bone to heal after minor trauma. It may occur after a dental procedure (such as pulling a tooth) or present as jaw pain or an inability to open the jaw.

Symptoms/ When to Call

  • Mouth pain, a tooth falling out or other dental concerns should be brought up to a dentist or oral surgeon.
  • Survivors should let their dentist know about their cancer history and treatment.

Prevention and Treatment

  • Dental visits, including cleanings every 6 months, oral exams annually, and a baseline panoramic x-ray are important to detect problems early.
  • For survivors with high doses of radiation in the oral area (like for treatment of nasopharyngeal cancers) hyperbaric oxygen treatment may be recommended before or after dental procedures. Hyperbaric oxygen improved wound healing.

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