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Three Good Reasons to See a Dentist BEFORE Cancer Treatment (Illustrated Booklet)

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See a Dentist Before Cancer Treatment

This illustrated booklet, designed for adults with very limited reading skills, offers instruction on how to care for the mouth before and during cancer treatment. Simple stick-figure sketches, called pictographs, demonstrate steps patients can take to prevent or manage the painful mouth problems cancer treatments can cause. Included are self-care tips to help ease the discomfort of oral complications and advice on when to call the cancer team if mouth problems arise.


1 — Fight Cancer

Illustration: Cancer care team

Your cancer team should include a dentist.

2 — Save Your Teeth and Bones

Illustration: Dentist, parent, and child

Children also need protection.

3 — Feel Better

Illustration: Dentist checking patient's teeth
Make sure you have a dental check up before your first cancer treatment.

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Protect Your Mouth During Cancer Treatment

  • Soak an extra-soft toothbrush in warm water to make it softer.
Illustration: Toothbrush soaking in a glass of water 
  • Brush your teeth and tongue gently.
Illustration: Brushing teeth gently 
  • Brush after every meal.
Illustration: Brushing teeth gently after a meal 
  • Brush at bedtime.
Illustration: Brushing teeth before bedtime 
  • Floss once a day.
Illustration: Flossing once a day 
  • If flossing hurts in one place, keep flossing in the others.
Illustration: Continuing to floss in other places in the mouth when one place hurts. 
  • Rinse often with water.
Illustration: Rinsing often with water 
  • Don't use mouthwash with alcohol in it.
Illustration: Avoiding mouthwash with alcohol 
  • Sip water and use a saliva substitute to keep your mouth moist.
Illustration: Sipping water often and using a saliva substitute 
  • Choose soft, easy-to-chew foods.
Illustration: Eating soft foods 
  • Avoid spicy, sour, or crunchy foods.
Illustration: Avoiding spicy, sour, or crunchy food 
  • Avoid very hot or icy-cold food.
Illustration: Avoiding very hot or icy cold food 
  • Avoid Alcohol
Illustration: Avoiding Alcohol 
  • Stop smoking or chewing tobacco
Illustration: Stopping smoking and chewing tobacco. 

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Tips for Mouth Problems

Sore Mouth, Sore ThroatIllustration: Sore mouth and sore throat

  • Rinse often with
    • 1/4 teaspoon of salt and
    • 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda in 1 quart (4 cups) of warm water
  • Don't swallow.
Illustration: Baking Soda, Warm Water, and Salt arrow Illustration: Rinsing mouth with baking soda, salt, and warm water
  • Ask your cancer care team about medicine that can help with the pain.
Illustration: Asking for pain medicine 

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Dry Mouth Illustration: A dry mouth

  • Sip water often
Illustration: Sipping water often 
  • Use sugar-free gum or candy.
Illustration: Sugar-free gum and candy 
  • Talk to your dentist about saliva substitutes.
Illustration: Talking to dentist about substitute saliva 

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Eating Problems Illustration: Eating Problems

  • Ask for medicine to numb the pain.
Illustration: Asking for pain medicine 

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Stiff Chewing Muscles Illustration: Stiff Chewing Muscles

  • Three times a day, open and close your mouth as far as you can without pain. Repeat 20 times.
Illustration: Opening and closing the mouth three times a day 

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Vomiting Illustration: A person vomiting

  • Rinse your mouth after vomiting. Use 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda in 1 cup of warm water.
  • Don't swallow.
Illustration: Rinse your mouth after vomiting with baking soda and water. 

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CavitiesIllustration: Teeth with cavities

  • Ask your dentist to put fluoride on your teeth to help prevent cavities.
Illustration: Fluoride, please. 

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When to Call Your Cancer Care Team

Illustration: Check your mouthCheck your mouth every day.

Illustration: Calling the cancer care team because of sores in the mouth 
Illustration: Calling the cancer care team because of swelling in the mouth 
Illustration: Calling the cancer care team because of bleeding in the mouth 
Illustration: Calling the cancer care team because of pain in the mouth 
Illustration: Calling the cancer care team because of sticky white film in the mouth 

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This booklet is part of the series, Oral Health, Cancer Care, and You: Fitting the Pieces Together. It was developed by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research in partnership with the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Nursing Research, components of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Publications in this series include:

For Patients

For Health Professionals

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This publication is not copyrighted. Make as many photocopies as you need.

NIH Publication No. 14-5172
August 2014

NIH...Turning Discovery Into Health®

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This page last updated: October 14, 2014