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Chemo Mouth: It’s Real, Common and Manageable

July 25, 2018

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By Steve Blanchard

It’s well known that chemotherapy can take a toll on your body. But many patients are surprised by one of the most common side effects of this treatment: oral mucositis – also called “chemo mouth.”

Five to 10 days following an initial chemotherapy treatment, inflammation and sores can develop on the tongue, gums and anywhere along the digestive tract. This can lead to discomfort and a loss of taste. You may not be able to stop mucositis from occurring, but there are steps you can take before treatment to help alleviate its side effects and symptoms.

First, ask your doctor to recommend a dentist who deals with cancer patients.

If you wear dentures, make sure they fit properly. Keep them out as often as possible. Brush and rinse them after meals and before bed. Experts also advise soaking them in cleansing solution for at least eight hours.

If any dental work is needed, it should be completed at least one month prior to the start of therapy. This gives your mouth time to completely heal and can prevent damage to your existing teeth, gums or jaw bones.

Moffitt’s infusion center team also has these recommendations to combat chemo mouth:

  • Avoid spicy foods.
  • Avoid acidic foods such as citrus fruits and tomatoes.
  • Drink mild, cool or warm fluids as often as you can.
  • Eat soft foods that are high in protein and vitamins.
  • Avoid sharp or coarse foods, such as chips, crackers or crusty bread.
  • Drink plenty of water to keep your mouth moist.
  • Suck on ice chips during your chemotherapy administration to help reduce inflammation.
  • Use moisturizer on your lips that is free of glycerin or petroleum jelly.

Even before you notice sores in your mouth, Moffitt nurses recommend rinsing regularly with a mixture of one teaspoon of baking soda, one teaspoon of salt and four cups of water. After swishing the mixture in your mouth, gargle and spit it out. Any remaining mixture should be covered and stored at room temperature for no longer than a day. Make a new batch each morning.

Moffitt nurses often recommend eating popsicles or icy slushes. Cold fruits like watermelon, pears or peaches can also provide some comfort. Soft bland foods like pudding, eggnog, milkshakes, eggs, ice cream or cream-based soups can also help.

Overall, it’s important to maintain healthy oral care during cancer treatment:

  • Rinse your mouth before and after meals and at bedtime with normal saline (salt water)
    or a non-alcohol mouthwash.
  • Use a soft-bristle toothbrush and remember to rinse it after each use before placing it
    upright to dry.
  • Replace your toothbrush 48 hours after the completion of treatment and every seven days
    while neutropenic.
  • Avoid toothpastes with abrasives or tooth whiteners, since this can cause additional
    inflammation.

If you have difficulty eating or drinking because of oral mucositis, let your doctor or nurse know and they may connect you with a dietitian.

Depending on the case, some home remedies may be useful. But be sure to talk to your doctors and nurses before trying any quick-fix ideas you may find on the internet.