Head and neck cancer patients treated by radiation commonly suffer from a devastating side effect known as dry-mouth syndrome, which results from the irreversible loss of salivary gland function via mechanisms that are not completely understood. In this study, we used a mouse model of radiation-induced salivary hypofunction to investigate the outcomes of DNA damage in the head and neck region. We demonstrate that the loss of salivary function was closely accompanied by cellular senescence, as evidenced by a persistent DNA damage response (gH2AX and 53BP1) and the expression of senescence-associated markers (SA-bgal, p19ARF, and DcR2) and secretory phenotype (SASP) factors (PAI-1 and IL6). Notably, profound apoptosis or necrosis was not observed in irradiated regions. Signs of cellular senescence were also apparent in irradiated salivary glands surgically resected from human patients who underwent radiotherapy. Importantly, using IL6 knockout mice, we found that sustained expression of IL6 in the salivary gland long after initiation of radiation-induced DNA damage was required for both senescence and hypofunction. Additionally, we demonstrate that IL6 pretreatment prevented both senescence and salivary gland hypofunction via a mechanism involving enhanced DNA damage repair. Collectively, these results indicate that cellular senescence is a fundamental mechanism driving radiation-induced damage in the salivary gland and suggest that IL6 pretreatment may represent a promising therapeutic strategy to preserve salivary gland function in head and neck cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy.