Your dental patient is about to start chemotherapy, is currently undergoing chemotherapy, or has completed chemotherapy. Are you looking for information to help you better understand what this means? If so, you’ve come to the right place!


While chemotherapy differs in terms of the type of drug or drugs and how it is delivered, it essentially refers to medications given to patients who have cancer to either kill cancer cells or prevent them from reproducing or allow greater effectiveness of other modalities.


Chemotherapy may be delivered by medical oncology teams via pill form or intravenously. It is typically given in a combined regimen with other medications, with the goal that each drug maximizes its benefit in eliminating cancer yet together the side effects are reduced. Regimens are based on long-term studies done at major cancer centers and are selected based on efficacy and safety.


Drugs typically attack cancer cells which are rapidly reproducing. As a complication, healthy cells that by their nature rapidly reproduce may also be impacted, such as reproductive cells or lining epithelial cells. Which explains why mucosa or hematopoietic cells may be impacted. People undergoing chemotherapy may have significantly lower numbers of platelets and white blood cells which may impact clotting or the ability to fight infection.


Timing of regimens. Patients will have a schedule to receive chemotherapy, along with break times to allow recovery of normal tissue. The time where the chemotherapy has had the strongest effect on the tissue is called the “nadir” and typically the lowest blood values are seen at this time. Dentists should work closely with medical oncology teams to determine when the patient is out of the nadir, as their ability to respond to dental treatment may be better.


Bisphosphonates are a form of chemotherapy that may be given to individuals with the risk of or presence of cancer metastasis in the bone. When given intravenously, it increases the risk for medication-related osteonecrosis of the bone.


Following chemotherapy, routine preventive dental care can be resumed to maximize oral health. While less common, secondary cancers may occur which means a comprehensive oral exam should be performed at each visit.

For more information about chemotherapy and oral health, see these resources:


You may wish to learn more about:

More information regarding the following topics will be coming soon:

  • Mucositis

  • Osteonecrosis 

  • Importance of good oral health before, during, and after cancer care


The information on the Dental Oncology Knowledge Center of Rhode Island, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images, and other external materials are for informational purposes only. The Partnership to Reduce Cancer in Rhode Island does not provide medical advice. The information on this website is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.