Trismus, or difficulty opening widely, can be a side effect of surgery or radiation therapy used in the treatment of head and neck cancer. Use strategies like exercises as described below to prevent this. People experiencing this difficulty of opening their mouth widely have greater difficulty with brushing and flossing or obtaining care at the dentist. This may also limit food choices. Individuals may perform exercises at home.


Exercises to prevent trismus:

  • Home recommendations: Five stretches, up to five times per day, for 30 days

    • Finger stretches- place thumb on upper teeth and index finger on lower teeth and gently stretch

    • Stacking tongue depressors: stack four tongue depressors between back teeth. Try to insert one more in the middle to provide a stretch

  • Companies with physical therapy devices- requires prescription from dentist or physician


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



You may also wish to learn about:


  • Xerostomia (dry mouth)

  • Oral Mucositis