Dry mouth

Radiation therapy to the head or neck area, some chemotherapy drugs and some pain medicines can change the amount of saliva in your mouth and make your mouth dry. This is known as xerostomia. It can increase the risk of tooth decay and infections such as oral thrush, which will make eating harder.

How to relieve a dry mouth

  • Use mouthwashes regularly to prevent infections. To avoid irritation, choose an alcohol-free mouthwash.
  • Gargle with ½ tsp salt and/or 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda in a glass of water.
  • Use a soft toothbrush when cleaning your teeth.
  • Ask your dentist or health care team about suitable mouth rinses or oral lubricants.
  • Avoid rough, crunchy or dry foods (e.g. chips, nuts, toast, dry biscuits); salty or spicy foods that sting your mouth; or very hot or cold food.
  • Soften food by dipping it into milk, soup, tea or coffee, or moisten it with sauce, gravy, cream, custard, etc. You may find soup easier to eat (find out about our recipes).
  • Cut, mince or puree food with sauce or gravy to avoid it drying out when chewed.
  • Sip fluids with meals and throughout the day.
  • Limit alcohol and coffee as these remove fluids from the body, and avoid smoking.
  • Chew sugar-free gum to stimulate the flow of saliva.
  • Suck on ice cubes or frozen grapes to moisten your mouth.
  • Moisten the inside of your mouth with a small amount of grapeseed oil, coconut oil or olive oil. This can help at night.
  • Use a moisturising lip balm to keep your lips moist.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF fact sheet on mouth health.

This information was last reviewed in June 2019
View who reviewed this content
View our editorial policy

Support services

Exercise and cancer
Exercise has many benefits both during and after cancer treatment, helping with side effects, speeding up recovery, and improving quality of life

Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment

Cancer information

Relaxation and meditation
Learn how relaxation and mediation can help you both during and after cancer treatment, or listen to our relaxation and meditation audio tracks

Cancer treatment
Learn about the different treatments that are used to treat cancer, such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and targeted therapy