- Cancer Information
- Living well
- Nutrition and cancer
- Treatment side effects and nutrition
- Dry mouth
Radiation therapy to the head or neck area and surgery that affects the salivary glands can reduce the amount of saliva in your mouth, make your mouth dry or make your saliva thick and sticky. This is known as xerostomia. Without enough saliva, bacteria can grow too quickly and may cause oral thrush, which will make eating and swallowing more difficult. A dry mouth can also make it harder to keep your teeth and mouth clean, which can increase the risk of tooth decay.
How to relieve a dry mouth
- Rinse your mouth often. Ask your doctor or nurse what type of alcohol-free mouthwash to use and how often to use it. They may give you an easy recipe for a homemade mouthwash.
- Brush your teeth with a soft toothbrush.
- Ask your dentist or health care team what oral (mouth) lubricants or saliva substitutes to use.
- Avoid foods that may sting your mouth, such as crunchy or dry foods (e.g. chips, nuts, toast, dry biscuits), and salty or spicy foods.
- Soften food by dipping it into milk, soup, tea or coffee, or moisten it with sauce, gravy, cream, custard, etc. Learn ways to adjust the texture of food.
- Sip fluids during meals and throughout the day.
- Avoid smoking and limit alcohol and coffee as they remove fluids from the body.
- Chew sugar-free gum to stimulate the flow of saliva.
- Suck on ice cubes or frozen grapes or rub the inside of your mouth with a small amount of grapeseed oil, coconut oil or olive oil to moisten your mouth.
- Use a moisturising lip balm to keep your lips moist.
For more on this, see Mouth health and cancer treatment.
Podcast for people living with cancer
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Jacqueline Baker, Senior Oncology Dietitian, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Lauren Atkins, Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian, OnCore Nutrition, VIC; Dr Tsien Fua, Head and Neck Radiation Oncology Specialist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Rosemerry Hodgkin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Clare Hughes, Manager, Nutrition Unit, Cancer Council NSW; John Spurr, Consumer; Emma Vale, Senior Dietitian, GenesisCare, SA; David Wood, Consumer.
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