- Cancer Information
- Managing side effects
- Mouth health and cancer treatment
- Oral side effects caused by cancer treatments
Oral side effects caused by cancer treatments
Cancer treatments can cause a number of oral side effects. The type of side effects you experience depends on your treatment. Not everyone will have all of these side effects.
Learn more about:
- Mouth changes
- Tooth decay
- Mouth infections
- Bleeding gums
- Taste changes
- Trouble swallowing (dysphagia) or opening your mouth fully (trismus)
- Oral mucositis and saliva changes
Your teeth may be at increased risk of decay, especially if you have a dry mouth.
The most common is oral thrush, which usually appears as white patches or a white or yellow coating on the lining of the mouth and tongue. Thrush can cause taste changes and bad breath, and can be uncomfortable.
Your gums may look red, shiny or swollen and they may bleed. Bleeding may occur if your platelet count falls, which can happen with chemotherapy. Platelets help the blood to clot.
Cancer treatment may make foods taste different (e.g. bitter or metallic). You may lose interest in eating (loss of appetite).
Trouble swallowing (dysphagia) or opening your mouth fully (trismus)
This can be caused by head and neck cancer or treatment side effects.
Your doctor or nurse will advise you on how to cope with any side effects. You may be prescribed medicine or given suggestions to make eating, drinking and swallowing easier. Your doctor may refer you to a dietitian or speech pathologist to help you manage your oral side effects, eating and drinking.
If you have any side effects, especially if they weren’t discussed with you before treatment, let your treatment team know. See more on ways to manage side effects.
At times life was tough but it slowly improved. I still suffer from a dry mouth and always carry a bottle of water.Mary, head and neck cancer survivor
Listen to our podcast on Appetite Loss and Nausea
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
A/Prof Sharon Liberali, Specialist, Special Needs Dentistry, and Director Special Needs Unit, Adelaide Dental Hospital, SA Dental Service, SA; Cecilia Barling, Consumer; Dr Bena Brown, Principal Allied Health Research Fellow in Cancer, and Advanced Speech Pathologist (Oncology), Princess Alexandra Hospital and Centre for Functioning and Health Research, QLD; Lisa Castle-Burns, Head and Neck Cancer Specialist Nurse, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Merran Findlay, Executive Research Lead – Cancer Nutrition, Oncology Specialist Dietitian, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, NSW; Jasmin Mazis, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Rick Pointon, Consumer; Prof David Wiesenfeld, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon, and Director, Head and Neck Tumour Stream, The Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Sue-Ching Yeoh, Oral Medicine Specialist, Sydney Oral Medicine, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW
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