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Side Effect: Toothache

What is a toothache?

A toothache is pain or discomfort that originates from the teeth or the surrounding gums and jawbone. Toothache can be a sign of dental decay or a cavity, gum disease, tooth trauma, or infection. In cancer patients, toothache can be caused by chemotherapy, radiation, or by the specific type of cancer.

What does a toothache look like?

The symptoms of toothache vary but can include:


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Who gets toothaches?

Cancer patients have a high risk of oral complications including toothache. Oral complications occur in nearly 40 percent of patients who receive chemotherapy, approximately 80 percent who have a stem cell transplant, and in nearly all patients who receive radiation for head and neck malignancies.

How to prevent toothaches

Good dental hygiene, before and during cancer treatment, may help to either prevent or decrease the associated oral complications. It is recommended that patients see a dentist at least 4 weeks before starting cancer treatment so any issues can be resolved. During cancer treatment it is important to keep the mouth, teeth, and gums clean. Gently brush your teeth 2 times a day and floss regularly. Avoid alcohol, extremely hot, cold, spicy, acidic, or crunchy foods. Getting enough vitamin D and calcium can also help your teeth stay strong. Fluoride treatments are often recommended to prevent cavities and tooth sensitivity. 

How to treat toothaches

Treating toothache depends on the cause. Pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) may be used to relieve mouth pain. Dry mouth, which can lead to tooth decay and toothache, can be managed by drinking water or sugar-free drinks, sucking on sugar-free candy, chewing gum with xylitol, or by using mouth rinses, oral gels, or prescription medications that will increase saliva. If the underlying source of the toothache is an infection, then your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, antiviral drugs, or antifungal drugs.


1) Epstein JB and Murphy BA. Late effects of cancer and cancer therapy on oral health and quality of life. Journal of the Massachusetts Dental Society 2010;59(3):22-27

Created: January 15, 2024 Updated: January 30, 2024