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Coping with Mouth Problems

Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy to the head or neck, may cause changes in the mouth. Some of these changes are redness, dryness, swelling, ulcers and white patches, and are called “mucositis.” Mucositis most commonly occurs 7-14 days after the start of therapy and heals when your blood counts return to normal. Good mouth care is a must during cancer treatment.

  • Check your mouth for changes every day.
  • Brush with a soft toothbrush and toothpaste after meals, at bedtime or after vomiting. (If not eating, brush 4 times a day.) Rinse with tap water.
  • Floss once a day if you usually floss. Do not floss areas that are sore or bleeding. Leukemia patients should check with their oncologist before flossing.
  • Keep lips moist with lip balm.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Rinse your mouth often with water. Frequent rinsing 4-10 times a day can help reduce mouth problems.
  • Do not use mouthwash that contains alcohol. You may be told to use special mouthwashes if you have teeth or gum disease.
  • Only wear dentures when eating. Clean dentures daily and change solution daily.
  • Avoid foods that are hot, spicy, salty or acidic. Soft, bland, cool foods are best. Avoid tobacco or alcohol.

Report to your doctor or nurse any of the following

  • pain
  • bleeding
  • new ulcers or white patches
  • difficulty swallowing

Caring for Mouth Problems

If changes such as redness, dryness, swelling, ulcer or white patches develop, you may have mucositis. Mucositis is an inflammation of the mouth, which may be worsened by infection.

Continue to follow “Tips for Preventing Mouth Problems”

In addition:

  • Use toothettes, if unable to brush due to pain or bleeding.
  • Rinse mouth with______1/2-1 tsp. salt in 8 oz. tap water

______1/4-1/2 strength peroxide solution

(Rinse with tap water afterwards)

______1 tsp. baking soda in 8 oz. water

___________________ (other solution every ______ hours.

If your mouth is dry you may try

  • ice chips
  • sour, sugar-free candy
  • artificial saliva (check with your doctor or nurse about a product)
  • sugarless gum
  • sipping liquids with meals
  • If you have pain, let your doctor or nurse know. You may need medication to control the pain.

©Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center

Disclaimer: All Information provided is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice for your specific