Skip to main content

Health Encyclopedia

Search the Health Encyclopedia

Dry mouth during cancer treatment

Alternative Names

Chemotherapy - dry mouth; Radiation therapy - dry mouth; Transplant - dry mouth; Transplantation - dry mouth

What to Expect

Some cancer treatments and medicines can cause dry mouth. Symptoms you may have include:

  • Mouth sores
  • Thick and stringy saliva
  • Cuts or cracks in your lips, or at the corners of your mouth
  • Your dentures may no longer fit well, causing sores on the gums
  • Thirstiness
  • Difficulty swallowing or talking
  • Loss of your sense of taste
  • Soreness or pain in the tongue and mouth
  • Cavities (dental caries)
  • Gum disease

Take Care of Your Mouth

Take good care of your mouth during cancer treatment. Not doing so can lead to an increase in bacteria in your mouth. The bacteria can cause infection in your mouth, which can spread to other parts of your body.

  • Brush your teeth and gums 2 to 3 times a day for 2 to 3 minutes each time.
  • Use a toothbrush with soft bristles.
  • Use toothpaste with fluoride.
  • Let your toothbrush air dry between brushings.
  • If toothpaste makes your mouth sore, brush with a solution of 1 teaspoon (5 grams) of salt mixed with 4 cups (1 liter) of water. Pour a small amount into a clean cup to dip your toothbrush into each time you brush.
  • Floss gently once a day.

Rinse your mouth 5 or 6 times a day for 1 to 2 minutes each time. Use one of the following solutions when you rinse:

  • One teaspoon (5 grams) of salt in 4 cups (1 liter) of water
  • One teaspoon (5 grams) of baking soda in 8 ounces (240 milliliters) of water
  • Half teaspoon (2.5 grams) salt and 2 tablespoons (30 grams) baking soda in 4 cups (1 liter) of water

DO NOT use mouth rinses that have alcohol in them. You may use an antibacterial rinse 2 to 4 times a day for gum disease.

Other tips for taking care of your mouth include:

  • Avoiding foods or drinks that have a lot of sugar in them that may cause tooth decay
  • Using lip care products to keep your lips from getting dry and cracking
  • Sipping water to ease mouth dryness
  • Eating sugar-free candy or chewing sugar-free gum

Talk with your dentist about:

  • Solutions to replace minerals in your teeth
  • Saliva substitutes
  • Drugs that help your salivary glands make more saliva

Diet

You need to eat enough protein and calories to keep your weight up. Ask your doctor about liquid food supplements that can help you meet your caloric needs and keep up your strength.

To make eating easier:

  • Choose foods that you like.
  • Eat foods with gravy, broth, or sauce to make them easier to chew and swallow.
  • Eat small meals and eat more often.
  • Cut your food into small pieces to make it easier to chew.
  • Ask your doctor or dentist if artificial saliva might help you.

Drink 8 to 12 cups (2 to 3 liters) of liquid each day (not including coffee, tea, or other drinks that have caffeine).

  • Drink liquids with your meals.
  • Sip cool drinks during the day.
  • Keep a glass of water next to your bed at night. Drink when you get up to use the bathroom or other times you wake up.

DO NOT drink alcohol or beverages that contain alcohol. They will bother your throat.

Avoid foods that are very spicy, that contain a lot of acid, or that are very hot or very cold.

If pills are hard to swallow, ask your doctor if it is OK to crush your pills. (Some pills do not work if they are crushed.) If it is OK, crush them up and add them to some ice cream or another soft food.

References

National Cancer Institute. Chemotherapy and you: support for people with cancer. Updated May 2007. www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/chemotherapy-and-you.pdf. Accessed March 20, 2016.

National Cancer Institute: PDQ Oral complications of chemotherapy and head/neck radiation. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated January 4, 2016. www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/mouth-throat/oral-complications-hp-pdq. Accessed March 20, 2016.

Sideras K, Hallemeier CL, Loprinzi CL. Oral complications. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, et al, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 43.

Review Date:2/6/2016
Reviewed By:Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997-A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

adam.com

The Agency for Health Care Administration (Agency) and this website do not claim the information on, or referred to by, this site is error free. This site may include links to websites of other government agencies or private groups. Our Agency and this website do not control such sites and are not responsible for their content. Reference to or links to any other group, product, service, or information does not mean our Agency or this website approves of that group, product, service, or information.

Additionally, while health information provided through this website may be a valuable resource for the public, it is not designed to offer medical advice. Talk with your doctor about medical care questions you may have.

We Appreciate Your Feedback!
1. Did you find this information useful?
         Yes
         No
2. Would you recommend this website to family and friends?
         Yes
         No