- Cancer Information
- Managing side effects
- Mouth health and cancer treatment
- Taking care of your mouth during treatment
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.
These tips may help you manage oral side effects and prevent infection:
- 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.
- 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.
At times life was tough but it slowly improved. I still suffer from a dry mouth and always carry a bottle of water with me. − Mary, head and neck cancer survivor
Contact your doctor immediately or go to emergencyYou 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 higherfeel that your pain is uncontrollableare unable to eat or drinkhave a lot of bleeding from the mouth or many white spots (infection).
This information was developed in May 2016 and reviewed by: Professor Richard Logan, Oral Pathology and Deputy Head of School, School of Dentistry, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Adelaide, SA, Dr Sharon Liberali, Director and Consultant, Special Needs Unit, Adelaide Dental Hospital, SA Dental Service, Megan Nutt, Head and Neck Cancer Specialist Nurse, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, Canberra Hospital, ACT, Katherine Garner, Radiation Oncology Dietitian, Northern NSW Cancer Institute, Robyn Burnett, Speech Pathologist, Royal Adelaide Hospital, Mary Mills, Head and Neck Cancer Survivor, Karen Hall, Clinical Nurse, Flinders Medical Centre and 13 11 20 nurse SA.
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