Many treatments for Hodgkin’s lymphoma target fast-growing cancer cells. Because the cells that comprise the lining of the mouth are fast-growing, cancer treatments can affect them. People may experience mild to severe dental complications.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a type of cancer that grows in the lymph nodes. Typical treatments include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy.

This article explores how treatments for Hodgkin’s lymphoma may affect a person’s dental and oral health.

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The most common complications that arise from Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatments include:

  • Sores of the mouth membrane: These painful sores can interfere with eating, swallowing, and speaking.
  • Sores: The risk of infections increases due to having a compromised immune system and changes in saliva.
  • Changes in taste: Taste alterations may affect a person’s nutritional intake and overall well-being.
  • Oral pain: Chemotherapy can cause irritation and inflammation in the mouth, causing pain.

Chemotherapy may also cause temporary dry mouth, a condition doctors call xerostomia. With xerostomia, a person may experience reduced, thickened, or a complete lack of saliva. Radiation therapy to the head and neck may also affect the salivary glands and cause dry mouth. However, radiation to the head and neck is not typical for people with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Oral and dental complications can lead to other issues, such as dehydration and malnutrition, making it essential to learn how to care for these dental complications before they arise.

Learn more about Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Chemotherapy is when doctors use drugs to target cancer cell growth.

While chemotherapy is an important treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, it may cause a range of oral health complications, such as:

  • inflammation and sores inside the mouth or even in the stomach or intestines
  • bleeding from the gums or mouth
  • nerve problems that might cause pain or affect how a person’s mouth feels
  • changes in taste or perception of foods

Learn more about chemotherapy.

Targeted therapy is a special treatment that uses medicines to target cancer cells. Usually, it is not as tough on healthy cells as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. However, targeted therapy still carries the risk of potential oral health complications.

While typically less severe, complications may include mouth sores and crusting of the lips.

Complications from immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is a type of targeted therapy that uses a person’s immune system to target cancer. It involves using substances that the body produces or that a lab creates to strengthen, guide, or revive the body’s natural defenses. This treatment falls under the category of biological therapy.

Oral health complications from immunotherapy may include:

  • open sores in the mouth
  • inflammation of the tongue
  • a burning or tingling feeling in the mouth
  • changes in taste
  • decreased saliva production
  • bleeding from the gums

Learn more about immunotherapy.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma typically stays in the lymphatic system but can spread to the bones on rare occasions. In these cases, doctors may suggest taking bone-modifying drugs to help target bone cancer.

While these drugs may help treat this disease, they also have the risk of a very rare but potentially serious condition known as jaw osteonecrosis. If this condition occurs, the gums no longer cover and protect the jaw bone, leading to its deterioration.

Read about jaw bone cancer.

It is essential to take proactive steps before, during, and after treatment to maintain oral health as much as possible.

Before treatment

Before starting treatment, experts suggest consulting a dentist and asking them to determine any sources of possible infection and extraction needs. Dentists should complete extractions at least 2 weeks before the cancer treatment starts.

During treatment

While a person is undergoing treatment, they must take appropriate care of their mouth in the following ways:

  • brush teeth gently with a soft brush three times daily
  • use fluoride toothpaste
  • sip water throughout the day
  • rinse with a baking soda and salt solution
  • avoid alcohol-based mouthwashes
  • keep the mouth moist with sugar-free gum or lozenges
  • avoid tobacco, if applicable
  • eat soft and bland foods if there is pain

After treatment

Once an individual finishes treatment, it is important to continue caring for their mouth by:

  • keeping up with regular dentist appointments
  • updating the dentist on any changes
  • being extra cautious with mouth care

If a person experiences any oral complications from treatment, they must talk with their doctor or dentist immediately. Treatment depends on the complication and overall health status of the individual. Symptoms to report include:

  • mouth pain that does not go away
  • sores that do not heal
  • bleeding that will not stop
  • trouble swallowing or eating

Dental and oral healthcare can be costly, but some health insurance plans cover it. People who need dental care can check their insurance policy and see what it includes. They can also ask their doctor or dentist for advice on affordable dental care options.

Learn about Medicare and dental treatment.

Treatments for Hodgkin’s lymphoma can lead to various oral and dental problems, such as sores in the mouth, dry mouth, changes in taste, and more.

People can better manage these issues with proper care before, during, and after treatment. Additionally, regular dentist visits and open communication with the healthcare team are essential.