Some chemotherapy drugs can damage healthy cells in the mouth and cause mouth sores, such as ulcers or infections.
Chemotherapy treatment may also reduce the amount of saliva (spit) in your mouth, make your saliva thick or sticky, or make your mouth dry. This is called xerostomia or dry mouth. If you notice any sores, ulcers or thickened saliva, or if you find it difficult to swallow, tell your doctor.
Looking after your mouth
- Discuss any dental issues with your oncologist or haematologist before seeing the dentist. If you need to have any dental work, tell your dentist you’re having chemotherapy.
- Use a soft toothbrush to clean your teeth twice a day.
- Rinse your mouth often – when you wake up, after you eat or drink, and at bedtime. Ask your doctor or nurse what type of alcohol-free mouthwash to use. They may give you a recipe for a homemade mouthwash. Talk to your doctor or nurse about medicines to relieve pain and help with healing.
- Sip fluids, especially water, and eat moist foods such as casseroles or soups if you have a dry mouth.
- Soothe tender gums or mouth with plain yoghurt.
- Try sucking on ice during chemotherapy sessions. This may help to prevent mouth ulcers.
- Blend foods to make them easier to eat. Try smoothies made of fruit and yoghurt.
- Avoid smoking and alcoholic drinks, as well as very hot foods and spicy, acidic or coarse foods (e.g. nuts or grains). These can all make mouth sores worse.
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Prof Timothy Price, Medical Oncologist, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, SA; Graham Borgas, Consumer: Dr Joanna Dewar, Medical Oncologist and Clinical Professor, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and The University of Western Australia, WA; Justin Hargreaves, Medical Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Bendigo Health Cancer Centre, VIC; Angela Kritikos, Senior Oncology Dietitian, Dietetic Department, Liverpool Hospital, NSW; Dr Kate Mahon, Director of Medical Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Georgie Pearson, Consumer; Chris Rivett, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Marissa Ryan, Acting Consultant Pharmacist (Cancer Services), Pharmacy Department, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD.
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