How breast cancer can affect your oral health


How breast cancer can affect your oral health

October 26, 2020 6:22 pm Published by

Sadly, more than 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the US alone. While this disease is very treatable, it’s important to be aware of side effects for the rest of your body. You might not expect breast cancer treatment to have an impact on your teeth and gums – but unfortunately, that can happen.

How does treatment affect my mouth?

Treatments are designed to kill cancer cells, and this process has an impact on your body’s immune system. This disruption of the normal balance in your body can have a knock-on effect for oral health in particular.

Different forms of cancer treatment have different effects, but the most common side effect on the mouth is having less saliva, or less fluid saliva, known as xerostomia or dry mouth. Saliva matters, because it is a magic component when it comes to fighting tooth decay.

In normal circumstances, it helps rinse food particles away from teeth and gums, and neutralize the acid produced by bacteria in the mouth. If there is less of it, then bacteria have a better chance of gaining a foothold, causing gum inflammation (known as gum disease) and tooth decay or dental caries.

Are there other side effects?

Other side effects of treatment can include stomatitis and oral mucositis, which in simple terms means inflammation of the lips, the mouth, the lips, or in the gut. It can be painful and can make eating and drinking difficult. Candida infection can also happen – this is where candida, a type of fungus that normally lives in the body without any issues, grows more and causes an infection. You might see white patches inside the mouth, have soreness, and a loss of the sense of taste or even pain when eating.


There are many different types of this treatment, but all work the same way – they are designed to kill the cancer cells in your body. This can mean that healthy cells are damaged too, leading to side effects. These can include a sore mouth, dry mouth, and an increased risk of infections. Fortunately, side effects do usually stop when treatment ends.

Radiation therapy

Often combined with chemotherapy, this form of treatment can also have an effect on your teeth and gums. While the radiation can cause soreness in the mouth, it can also – unfortunately – cause permanent damage to the salivary glands, so they cant produce as much saliva any more. As well as making eating and drinking more difficult, this can cause a condition called dry mouth, which can be uncomfortable and without proper care can lead
to gum disease or tooth decay.

Anxiety medications

These can be prescribed to help, but can affect your mouth’s ability to produce saliva. Sometimes they cause sickness, which can be damaging to teeth and gums because of stomach acid coming into contact with your teeth.

Preventing damage

It’s a very good idea to see a periodontist and GP before any breast cancer treatment starts. Not only can they check on the conditions of your teeth and gums, it’s actually best to fix any problems before cancer treatment starts. This is because there can be a higher risk of complications, from the effect the cancer treatment has on your immune system and your
body’s ability to heal itself.

Gum disease is very common, and you might be surprised to know that most adults actually suffer from mild forms of it without even knowing, However, if it is left untreated, then it can progress to more serious forms, leading to permanent tissue damage and even damage to the jaw bone, or lost teeth. Gum disease treatment is easy to obtain from your periodontist and might just be a simple scale and polish.

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