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The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center

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Head and Neck Cancer Dental Health

Radiation therapy is often a part of standard treatment for head or neck cancer patients.  It can cause problems such as infection to the gums, mouth sores and tooth decay. For this reason, it is important for you to visit your dentist and to have any needed dental treatment completed PRIOR to starting radiation treatment at The Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. Dental treatment AFTER radiation treatment can be complicated by slow healing and the risk of infection.

Importance of Seeing a Dentist Prior to Radiation Treatment for Head and Neck Cancer

Radiation treatment used during your cancer care can harm normal cells including cells in your mouth. If you go to the dentist before head and neck radiation treatment begins, you can help prevent serious mouth problems from developming after or during your radiation treatment. Side effects of radiation treatment often happen to a patient because their mouth is not healthy before the radiation treatment begins. Not all mouth problems can be avoided with radiation treatment. Side effects may include:

  • Dry mouth
  • A lot of cavities
  • Sore gums and mouth
  • Infections
  • Jaw stiffness and jaw bone changes
  • Loss of taste

During your treatment, it is important to stay away from food or objects that may cut or cause cavities. They include sharp, crunchy foods that could scrape or cut your mouth as well as toothpicks, foods that are hot, spicy, or high in acid like citrus fruits and juices which can irritate your mouth. Also avoid sugary foods like candy or soda that could cause cavities, alcoholic drinks and all tobacco products.

Keeping Your Mouth Healthy During Radiation Treatment

Visiting your dentist prior to your first radiation treatment is the first step to keeping your mouth healthy. Once you begin your radiation treatment it is important to examine your mouth each day looking for any sores or changes that might occur. These tips can help prevent and treat a sore mouth:

  • Drink a lot of water and suck ice chips.
  • Use sugarless gum or sugar-free hard candy.
  • Use a saliva substitute to help moisten your mouth.
  • Clean your mouth, tongue, and gums use and extra-soft toothbrush after every meal and at bedtime.
  • Use a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Avoid mouthwashes with alcohol in them.
  • Floss your teeth gently every day. If your gums bleed and hurt, avoid the areas that are bleeding or sore, but keep flossing your other teeth.
  • Rinse your mouth several times a day with a solution of 1/4 teaspoon each of baking soda and salt in one quart of warm water. Follow with a plain water rinse.
  • Dentures that don't fit well can cause problems. Talk to your cancer doctor or dentist about your dentures.
  • Take small bites of food, chew slowly, and sip liquids with your meals.
  • Eat moist, soft foods such as cooked cereals, mashed potatoes, and scrambled eggs.
  • If you have trouble swallowing, soften your food with gravy, sauces, broth, yogurt, or other liquids.
  • Call your doctor or nurse when your mouth hurts and work with them to find medicines to help control the pain.

Dental Services in Baltimore City and Baltimore County

Baltimore City Dental Clinic 
Provides preventive and urgent dental care services to low-income, uninsured and Medicaid-eligible residents of Baltimore City.
1515 W. North Avenue, Baltimore, MD
Phone: 410-396-0840 
620  N. Caroline Street, Baltimore, MD    
Phone: 443-984-3548

Baltimore County Department of Health , Dental Access and Referral Program
Those who qualify can receive a discounted fee for services provided by private participating general dentists and specialists.
Phone: 410-887-2781
Baltimore County Dental Clinic
Preventative services ONLY (dental exam, full mouth x-ray & dental cleaning)     
Fees based on a sliding fee scale.
3525 Resource Drive, Randallstown, MD
Phone: 410-887-2780
9600 Franklin Square Drive, Baltimore, MD
Phone: 410-887-2780

Chase Brexton Health Services Baltimore City  
Preventative (dental exam, full mouth x-ray & dental cleaning) and dental problems seen.  Accept MA and sliding fee scale available.
10 W. Eager Street, Baltimore, MD
Phone: 410-837-2050 ext .2602  

People's Community Health Center       
Regardless of patients’ income or insurance status they provide preventative (dental exam, full mouth x-ray & dental cleaning)and
dental problem care ,substance abuse treatment and mental health care to all that need it.  Accept MA and sliding fee scale available.
3028 Greenmount Avenue, Baltimore, MD
Phone: 410-467-6040

Park West Medical Center
Preventative (dental exam, full mouth x-ray & dental cleaning) and dental problems seen.  Accept MA and sliding fee scale available.
3319 W. Belvedere Avenue, Baltimore, MD      
Phone: 410-542-7800

Total Health Care
Preventative (dental exam, full mouth x-ray & dental cleaning) and dental problems seen.  Accept MA and sliding fee scale available.
1501 Division Street, Baltimore, MD                
Phone: 410-383-8300

University of Maryland Dental School
Preventative (dental exam, full mouth x-ray & dental cleaning) and dental problems seen.  Accept MA and sliding fee scale available.
650 W. Baltimore Street, Baltimore, MD
Phone: 410-706-7101


**Information sourced from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research / National Institutes of Health / Oral Cancer Foundation