Cancer Treatment and Mouth Sores

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Oral care is critical when you are going through cancer treatment. Learn how to reduce your risk for side effects.

Mouth sores (Oral Mucositis) are a common side effect of cancer treatments. Risks for developing mouth sores depend on the type of treatments, the dosage and duration. With chemotherapy, mouth sores typically appear 7-10 days after treatments and last 1-2 weeks. With radiation to the head and neck region, mouth sores tend to start about 2 weeks after treatment and can last throughout the duration of treatments. Oral mucositis can range from a mild tenderness in the mouth to large, painful ulcerations that disrupt the ability to eat, drink, speak and swallow. The most severe cases may result in the need to reduce dosages, delay or discontinue treatments.

Reduce your risks of mouth sores by taking action before they occur.

  • When possible, see your dentist prior to starting treatments to address any existing dental issues and remove potential sources of irritation.
  • Good oral hygiene is essential. Plaque, tartar buildup and food debris can cause the tissue to become inflamed. Keeping your mouth clean can also reduce the risks of mouth sores becoming infected.
  • Use the right toothbrush. A compact head and extra soft bristles are a must. If you are unsure which brush to use, ask your dental hygienist for a recommendation.
  • Keep your mouth moist. A dry mouth is more prone to mouth sores.
  • Choose foods wisely. Avoid sharp, dry, hot or spicy foods that could irritate the tissue or cause trauma.
  • For some types of chemotherapy, sucking on ice chips before and during infusions can constrict the blood flow to the oral tissues, reducing the risks for mouth sores.
  • Avoid oral care products with potentially irritating ingredients. Alcohol, peroxide and some detergents that are present in many brands of toothpaste and mouth rinses can actually encourage mouth sores to develop.
  • Don’t wait until it hurts. Inform your doctor and nurses if you notice any changes or concerns in your mouth during treatments.

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