Oral Health Care (cont.)

Cancer therapies, such as radiation to the head and neck or chemotherapy, can cause oral problems, including dry mouth, tooth decay, painful mouth sores, and cracked and peeling lips. Before starting cancer treatment, it is important to see a dentist and take care of any necessary dental work. Your dentist will also show you how to care for your teeth and mouth before, during, and after your cancer treatment to prevent or reduce the oral problems that can occur.

Oral cancer (mouth cancer) (431) most often occurs in people over age 40. The disease frequently goes unnoticed in its early, curable stages. This is true in part because many older people, particularly those wearing full dentures, do not visit their dentists often enough and because pain is usually not an early symptom of the disease. People who smoke cigarettes, use other tobacco products, or drink excessive amounts of alcohol are at increased risk for oral cancer.

It is important to spot oral cancer as early as possible, since treatment works best before the disease has spread. If you notice any red or white patches on the gums or tongue, sores that do not heal within 2 weeks, or if you have difficulty chewing or swallowing, be sure to see a dentist. A head and neck exam, which should be a part of every dental check-up, will allow your dentist to detect early signs of oral cancer.


If you wear false teeth (dentures), keep them clean and free from food that can cause stains, bad breath, and gum irritation. Once a day, brush all surfaces of the dentures with a denture care product. Remove your dentures from your mouth and place them in water or a denture cleansing liquid while you sleep. It is also helpful to rinse your mouth with a warm salt water solution in the morning, after meals, and at bedtime.

Partial dentures should be cared for in the same way as full dentures. Because bacteria tend to collect under the clasps of partial dentures, it is especially important to clean this area. Dentures will seem awkward at first. When learning to eat with false teeth, select soft nonsticky food, cut food into small pieces, and chew slowly using both sides of the mouth. Dentures may make your mouth less sensitive to hot foods and liquids, and lower your ability to detect harmful objects such as bones. If problems in eating, talking, or simply wearing dentures continue after the first few weeks, see your dentist about making adjustments.

In time, dentures need to be replaced or readjusted because of changes that occur in tissues of your mouth. Do not try to repair dentures at home since this may damage the dentures which in turn may further hurt your mouth.

Dental Implants

Dental implants are anchors that permanently hold replacement teeth. There are several different types of implants, but the most popular are metal screws surgically placed into the jaw bones. If there isn't enough bone, a separate surgical procedure to add bone may be needed. Because bone heals slowly, treatment with implants can often take longer (4 months to 1 year or more) than bridges or dentures. If you are considering dental implants, it is important to select an experienced dentist with whom you can discuss your concerns frankly beforehand to be certain the procedure is right for you.

Professional Care

In addition to practicing good oral hygiene, it is important to have regular check-ups by the dentist whether you have natural teeth or dentures. It is also important to follow through with any special treatments that are necessary to ensure good oral health. For instance, if you have sensitive teeth caused by receding gums, your dentist may suggest using a special toothpaste for a few months. Teeth are meant to last a lifetime. By taking good care of your teeth and gums, you can protect them for years to come.

Last Editorial Review: 10/3/2005