Radiation Oncology and Dental Health

Does radiation affect your teeth? Unfortunately, radiation, though an important tool in treating numerous varieties of cancer, can have some serious and unpleasant side effects that may have a negative impact on oral health. Radiation treatments on the head and neck, in particular, can complicate oral health. In addition to causing sores on gums and in and around the mouth, sometimes the salivary glands are damaged by the radiation, leading to long-term struggles with dry mouth.

Radiation can also make healing more difficult if dental surgery is needed following radiation treatment, especially if a tooth needs to be extracted post-treatment. Swelling and lymphedema—a buildup of lymph fluids—also can cause swallowing difficulty and oral pain. Although radiation techniques are improving, bothersome side effects still can cause patients considerable difficulty or discomfort.

Possible Side Effects of Radiation on Teeth

  • Red, irritated gums
  • Bleeding gums
  • Gum recession (pulling away)
  • Bad breath
  • Oozing from the gums
  • Loose teeth

Common Questions About Dental Issues Related to Oncology:

Should I have teeth removed before radiation treatment?

If you have a tooth with a very high likelihood that it will need to be removed and are going to undergo radiation of the jaw, your dentist may recommend removing the tooth before radiation because of the potential healing problems that can occur after treatment. They may also recommend additional fluoride treatments to help improve and preserve tooth health.

What is the most common side effect of radiation treatment?

Fatigue is the most commonly reported side effect of radiation treatment.

What should I do to preserve tooth health following radiation?

Tell your dentist about all treatments you will undergo, are undergoing, or have undergone. Your dentist will tailor treatment regimens to your specific situation. Maintain good home care practices, including regular brushing and flossing. Watch for signs of dry mouth and treat it promptly should it occur.

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