Ask The Doctor: Radiation

Q.  I’m about to undergo radiation for cancer treatment. Will this affect my mouth?

A. Patients undergoing head and neck radiation therapy often suffer from a condition referred to as “dry mouth.” For these patients, the effects of radiation have limited their cells’ ability to produce saliva. Since saliva plays an important role in cleansing plaque-causing bacteria from the teeth, untreated dry mouth can lead to severe tooth decay.  To prevent this, patients undergoing head and neck radiation should be fitted with custom fluoride trays to strengthen teeth during their treatment. Patients suffering from loss of saliva may also have trouble tasting food. However, after radiation treatment is completed, saliva production usually improves, restoring the ability to taste and enjoy food.