Unlike radiation therapy, chemotherapy can have an effect on the mouth even if it is used to treat cancer in a distant part of the body. There are many different chemotherapeutic agents in use. Your medical oncologist or oncology nurse would be best to tell you what to expect in terms of side effects in your mouth. It is equally important for a patient about to receive chemotherapy to receive a thorough dental evaluation prior to starting treatment to prevent potentially life-threatening problems.
Chemotherapy can often make you more susceptible to the spread of dental infections. Dental problems that are normally handled by the body can prove to be very serious and even life-threatening to the patient undergoing chemotherapy. This would include bacterial infections, viral infections and fungal infections. Sores on the lining of the mouth similar to those of radiation can also occur, which can make eating difficult. Bleeding from the gums can also be potentially serious.
Prevention is the key to oral/dental problems with chemotherapy. Potential dental problems should be treated prior to starting chemotherapy because during chemotherapy low blood counts can be a serious obstacle to any treatment. Be sure to inform your doctor if you have had cold sores at any time in your life. Anti-viral agents can be used to prevent serious viral infections. There are anti-fungal rinses and lozenges to treat that type of infection as well. It is important to remember that a potential dental problem prior to starting chemotherapy can become a serious problem if not treated before chemotherapy is started. Good oral hygiene before and during chemotherapy can prevent many problems; however, during your chemotherapy, you may not be able to brush and floss as you normally would due to a sore mouth or high risk of bleeding. We can recommend other methods of hygiene to use if necessary.