Taking care of your mouth during treatment

Problems affecting your mouth can be hard to deal with. These side effects often have an impact on the type of food you can eat, your nutrition and general health.

It is important to try to continue eating nutritious foods so your body can recover from the cancer treatment. For more on this, see Taste and smell changes and Nutrition and cancer.

These tips may help you manage oral side effects and prevent infection:

Keep your mouth clean

  • Rinse your mouth every time you eat or drink and at bedtime. Ask your doctor or nurse for advice about what type of mouthwash you should use. You may also try ¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda in 1 cup of warm water, or ¼ teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of warm water, or an alcohol-free mouthwash. Swish it around your mouth and spit it out.
  • If you wear dentures, make sure they fit properly. Wear them only during meals, and clean well after use by soaking in denture cleaner. Ask your healthcare team to recommend denture cleaning products that will not cause mouth irritation.
  • Use a soft toothbrush or electric toothbrush and replace regularly to prevent infection. Dip it in warm water to make the bristles softer and use a mild toothpaste recommended by your dentist. Avoid whitening toothpastes as these may irritate the mouth and gums.
  • If your mouth is too sore to brush or bleeds when you clean your teeth, rinse it using the mouthwashes described above.
  • Ask your dentist or healthcare team if you should floss your teeth. This may not be recommended during treatment.

Keep your mouth moist

  • Stay hydrated by drinking 6–8 glasses of water and other fluids throughout the day. Try sugar-free cordial, diluted juices, herbal tea and non-acidic drinks.
  • Limit caffeine intake from coffee, tea, energy drinks and soft drinks.
  • A cool mist humidifier at night can be helpful if you have a very dry mouth, check with your health care team.
  • Suck on ice chips, ice blocks or soft sugar-free sweets, or use sugar-free chewing gum.
  • Use lip balm, petroleum jelly or cocoa butter on your lips.

Manage pain and difficult eating

Take pain medications as prescribed, particularly before meals.

  • Choose foods that are soft, moist and easy to swallow, such as rice, mashed potatoes, tinned fruit, slow-cooked meat, scrambled eggs and yoghurt. Use gravies and sauces to moisten foods and add flavour.
  • Avoid things that may irritate your mouth, including:
    • hard, crunchy, spicy, salty or acidic foods (e.g. fruit juices, curries, chips)
    • alcohol and tobacco
    • very hot foods.
  • If your mouth is dry and you find it difficult to swallow, try using artificial saliva and oral moisturisers from the chemist.
  • Drink through a straw if you have mouth sores.
  • Try to eat a well-balanced diet including foods from the five major food groups.

      − Mary, head and neck cancer survivor

Contact your doctor immediately or go to emergency

You should always keep your doctor informed about your mouth side effects. However, you may have to contact a health professional or go to the emergency department immediately if you:

  • have a temperature of 38°C or higher
  • feel that your pain is uncontrollable
  • are unable to eat or drink
  • have a lot of bleeding from the mouth or many white spots (infection).

Click on the icon below to download a PDF fact sheet on Mouth Care.

Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

Need more help? Visit: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4059


To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
Need more information? Visit: http://www.kobo.com/help/koboaura/response/?id=3784&type=3

Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

Need more help? Visit: https://au.readerstore.sony.com/apps_and_devices/

Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=help_search_1-1?ie=UTF8&nodeId=200767340&qid=1395967989&sr=1-1
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit www.amazon.com/manageyourkindle, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
Need more help? Visit https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200375630

Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in May 2016
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