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Managing Mouth Sores or Dry Mouth in Cancer Treatment

Sep 16, 2017

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When you undergo cancer treatment, it affects your fastest replicating body cells and those most sensitive to the treatment methods. These include cells of your gastrointestinal tract lining, the ones in your mouth, throat, esophagus, rectum...

When you undergo cancer treatment, it affects your fastest replicating body cells and those most sensitive to the treatment methods. These include cells of your gastrointestinal tract lining, the ones in your mouth, throat, esophagus, rectum, intestines and stomach. These cellular changes cause side effects, such as mouth sores and dry mouth.

There is little you can do to prevent mouth sores. Even maintaining your best possible oral health does not necessarily help stop these mouth sores, but helps decrease the severity and duration of the condition.

Caring for Your Mouth Sores or Dry Mouth

See your dentist before starting cancer treatment, to ensure your best dental health in preparation for changes of your treatment. This visit also prepares your dentist for changes you experience soon after treatment begins, so he or she can help you manage your symptoms.

Always call your doctor when you experience an increase in sores, pain, white patches or problems with eating, swallowing, talking or drinking. Check your mouth daily for these changes.

Ways to care for mouth sores or dry mouth include:

  • Use a soft bristle toothbrush heated under running hot water for gentle teeth and tongue brushing twice daily
  • Air dry your toothbrush to prevent bacteria growth
  • Floss your teeth daily if your doctor recommends this and your platelet count is in a safe range
  • Use a baking soda rinse four times daily, including after meals, to discourage saliva acidity, thin mucous and discourage yeast growth
  • Avoid oral care products containing alcohol, as this dries and irritates your mouth tissues
  • Apply water-based moisturizer to your lips for protection from sores and dryness
  • Avoid drinking alcohol
  • Quit smoking

Nutrition for Prevention of Mouth Sores and Dry Mouth

Nutrition also plays a role in prevention of mouth sores and dry mouth during cancer treatment. Nutrition tips for your healthiest mouth include:

  • Drink plenty of fluids throughout each day to stay hydrated
  • Avoid salty, acidic, spicy, rough or coarse foods
  • Eat foods at room temperature
  • Moisten foods before eating them, such as with sauces, broth, gravy or other liquids
  • Eat plenty of soft foods like soups, smoothies, yogurt, mashed fruits and vegetables, tender meats, eggs, casseroles and hot cereals

If you feel you need medication for your mouth sore pain, talk to your doctor. Also try the following tips for relieving your mouth pain:

  • Drink fluids through a straw to avoid contact with sores
  • Moisten your mouth throughout your day using ice chips, sugarless gums and hard candies
  • If you suffer dry mouth but no mouth sores, eat tart foods or liquids like lemons, limes or pickles
Arizona Center for Cancer Care