Tips on Coping With Mouth, Gum, and Throat Problems Related to Chemotherapy
Good oral care is important during cancer treatment. Chemotherapy can cause sores in the mouth and throat. Treatment can also make these tissues dry and irritated or cause them to bleed.
In addition to being painful, mouth sores can become infected by the many germs that live in the mouth. Every step should be taken to prevent infections because they can be hard to fight during chemotherapy and can lead to serious problems.
Ways to Keep You Healthy
Here are some tips to help keep your mouth and gums healthy while you have chemotherapy:
- Make an appointment to visit your dentist at least two weeks before you start chemotherapy. You may need to get your teeth cleaned and have treatment for any problems, like getting treatment for gingivitis or having a cavity filled.
- Talk to your dentist about special ways that you should care for your teeth during chemotherapy. For example, you may need to brush your teeth a certain way, or use an alcohol-free fluoride rinse.
- Create a routine so that you brush your teeth after every meal. Use a special toothbrush that has very soft bristles. Gently clean your teeth and gums.
- Floss gently every day. Floss only areas where your gums do not bleed or hurt. Ask your doctor about flossing if your white blood cell count or blood platelet count is low.
- After brushing your teeth, rinse your toothbrush and allow it dry.
- If it hurts when you use a regular toothbrush, try using an oral cotton swab.
- Do not use mouthwash because it can irritate your mouth and gums.
- If you have dentures, carefully clean them. Try to give your gums a break by not wearing your dentures.
Things to Avoid
Certain foods can injure or worsen your condition. Try to avoid:
- Eating foods that are crunchy or have sharp edges
- Consuming foods or drinks that are spicy or acidic
- Consuming foods or drinks that have a lot of sugar
- Drinking alcoholic beverages
- Placing anything in your mouth, like a toothpick, that can cause an injury
- Smoking cigarettes or using any other form of tobacco
Coping With Mouth Sores
If you develop sores in your mouth, try these tips:
- Talk to your healthcare team. Find out if there is medication that you can apply to the sores.
- Avoid consuming foods or drinks that are hot or even warm. These can cause the sores to be even more painful.
- Eat foods that are soft and easy to chew. Some examples include ice cream, applesauce, scrambled eggs, and cottage cheese. You can also use a blender to make food easier to eat.
- Eat and drink slowly.
Coping With Mouth Dryness
If your mouth is really dry, try some of these tips:
- Talk to your healthcare team. You may need to use an artificial saliva product.
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids.
- Try to keep your mouth moist by sucking on small pieces of ice, popsicles, or hard candy. Chewing gum may also be helpful.
- Apply lip balm to your dry lips.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
BC Cancer Agency
Canadian Cancer Society
Chemotherapy and you. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/chemotherapy-and-you.pdf. Published June 2011. Accessed November 16, 2017.
Toxicities of chemotherapeutic agents. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115935/Toxicities-of-chemotherapeutic-agents. Updated October 23, 2017. Accessed November 16, 2017.
Last reviewed November 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 12/21/2015