Caring For Your Teeth after Head and Neck Radiotherapy

Patient Leaflets Team

  • Reference Number: HEY-944/2017
  • Departments: Radiotherapy

How does radiotherapy affect your teeth?

Dryness of the mouth and widespread dental decay:

Radiotherapy to the head and neck decreases the amount of saliva that you  produce, which results in a dry mouth. Saliva is vital to protect your teeth against decay as it washes the sugar (carbohydrate) off your teeth and neutralises acids. Sugar and acid are the main cause of tooth decay.

OsteoRadioNecrosis (ORN):

Radiotherapy reduces the blood supply to your jaw bone and therefore the ability of the bone to heal. This means, if you need a tooth removing after radiotherapy, there is a chance that the bone associated with the tooth could die, causing a painful, long-standing condition called Osteoradionecrosis. This is also why some patients may require removal of  badly broken down or infected teeth before radiotherapy to reduce the risk of ORN. Although this condition is  treatable, it is easier to avoid it in the first place by looking after your teeth.

How to look after your teeth?

 It is vital that you look after your teeth. Fluoride alone will not protect your teeth from decay unless you clean your teeth thoroughly well and limit the frequency of sugar in your diet.

  • Water and Milk are the preferred drinks.
  • Avoid sugary drinks and food, especially in between meals including: Boiled sweets, Biscuits, tea/coffee with sugar, fruit juices, fizzy drinks (including sugar free).
  • AVOID FIZZY DRINKS including FIZZY WATER as these contain carbonic acid.
  • Avoid sucking boiled sweets to alleviate your dry mouth as this can cause widespread dental decay.
  • If you have been prescribed Fortisips, DO rinse your mouth well with water after your drink to ensure that Fortisips does not coat your teeth for the rest of the day!

In addition to the above- brush your teeth without toothpaste after snacks too and then rinse well with water after flavoured drinks.

Why all the fluoride products?

 Radiotherapy increases your risk of dental decay. Fluoride helps prevent decay by hardening the teeth. Harder teeth resist decay more effectively.

  • Use the Duraphat fluoride toothpaste for life: Twice daily:  morning and night.  Spit out remaining toothpaste. Do not rinse with water.  Do Not eat or drink for ONE hour.
  • Use Fluorigard Mouthwash for lifeOnce daily at mid-day. Rinse vigorously and spit out. Do Not eat or drink for ONE hour after use.
  • Custom Fluoride mouth trays: Use daily at a different time to other fluoride-containing products.  Load tray with Duraphat toothpaste.  Place tray in the mouth for 10 minutes.  Spit out excess and don’t rinse, eat or drink for ONE hour.
  • Attend a General Dentist for regular, 3 monthly check-ups for life.

Further advice

Should you require further advice on the issues contained in this leaflet, please do not hesitate to contact the Restorative Dentistry/Maxillo-facial department on telephone number (01482) 604444

General Advice and Consent

Most of your questions should have been answered by this leaflet, but remember that this is only a starting point for discussion with the healthcare team.

Consent to treatment

Before any doctor, nurse or therapist examines or treats you, they must seek your consent or permission. In order to make a decision, you need to have information from health professionals about the treatment or investigation which is being offered to you. You should always ask them more questions if you do not understand or if you want more information.

The information you receive should be about your condition, the alternatives available to you, and whether it carries risks as well as the benefits. What is important is that your consent is genuine or valid. That means:

  • you must be able to give your consent
  • you must be given enough information to enable you to make a decision
  • you must be acting under your own free will and not under the strong influence of another person

Information about you

We collect and use your information to provide you with care and treatment. As part of your care, information about you will be shared between members of a healthcare team, some of whom you may not meet. Your information may also be used to help train staff, to check the quality of our care, to manage and plan the health service, and to help with research. Wherever possible we use anonymous data.

We may pass on relevant information to other health organisations that provide you with care. All information is treated as strictly confidential and is not given to anyone who does not need it. If you have any concerns please ask your doctor, or the person caring for you.

Under the General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018 we are responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of any information we hold about you. For further information visit the following page: Confidential Information about You.

If you or your carer needs information about your health and wellbeing and about your care and treatment in a different format, such as large print, braille or audio, due to disability, impairment or sensory loss, please advise a member of staff and this can be arranged.

QR code to open leaflet