You’re about to start chemotherapy, currently undergoing chemotherapy, or have already 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 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 through an IV. It is typically given in a combined routine with other medications, with the goal that each drug maximizes its benefit in getting rid of the cancer yet together the side effects are decreased. Routine medication plans 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. A problem with drug treatments is that healthy cells which by their nature rapidly reproduce may also be affected, such as reproductive cells or lining surface cells. Which explains why mucosa or blood cells may be impacted. People undergoing chemotherapy may have significantly lower numbers of platelets, small blood cell pieces, and white blood cells which may impact clotting or ability to fight infection.


Timing of routine medication plans 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 which may be given to individuals with risk of or presence of cancer cells that have spread  in the bone. When given through an IV, it increases risk for medication related osteonecrosis, death of cells within the bone.


Following chemotherapy, routine preventive dental care can be restarted to maximize oral health. While less common, secondary cancers may occur which means a complete 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:


  • Mucositis

  • Osteonecrosis

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

  • Finding a dentist

  • Financing dental care