Cancer: "My Mouth is Extremely Dry"
Radiation therapy and some types of chemotherapy affect the salivary glands and may cause dry mouth and painful swelling of the glands. This can lead to changes in the amount and feel of the saliva in your mouth. It may become very thick, sticky, and stringy. It helps moisten the mouth, and that moisture helps you talk, eat, swallow, and keep your teeth and gums healthy. When your body fails to produce enough, you have dry mouth (xerostomia). This problem can be something that goes away in time, but there are people who deal with it for the rest of their lives.
- Ask your doctor or nutritionist to talk to you about a mouth-coating spray or wetting agent to moisten your dry mouth.
- Carry a squirt bottle or water bottle so you'll always have water at hand.
- Make your own mouth lubricant with a mixture of: 1/4 teaspoon of glycerin added to 1 cup of water.
- Chew sugarless gum or suck on sugar-free (key to prevent tooth-decay) candy to stimulate saliva. The citric flavored candy such as sugar-free lemon drops work best.
- Keep water by your bed for night dryness.
- Rinse your mouth with a baking soda solution before and after meals. Mix 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda in 1 cup of water. Do not swallow the rinse.
Things to Avoid
- Avoid hard, crunchy foods such as tough or crisp meats, or dry snack foods.
- Avoid foods that gum up in your mouth, such as bread products.
- Avoid spicy, salty, or acidic foods that can irritate your mouth.
- Avoid hot food and drinks. Room temperature foods are better.
- Avoid caffeine or highly sugared drinks. Drinks with caffeine may cause added dryness.
- Avoid alcohol and tobacco. Tobacco can irritate the lining of your mouth and alcohol can make dry mouth worse.
- Avoid over-the-counter mouth washes that contain alcohol. They can be drying and irritating to your mouth.
Dealing with dry mouth at meal time
- Make stews, casseroles, and simmered foods, adding more liquids to make them softer.
- Moisten foods with sauces, gravies, yogurts, or salad dressings.
- Dip or soak foods into whatever you are drinking.
- Soften or thin foods with milk, broth, water, or melted margarine.
- Chop, grind, or blenderize foods. Small portable food grinders may be helpful.
- Sip drinks often while eating foods.
- Choose fruits and juices that are low in acid, such as bananas or canned fruits. Fruit nectars and fruit drinks may be better tolerated than fruit juices.
- Use a straw if it helps you swallow.
- Suck on fruit juice popsicles, ice chips, or other cold foods. Cool foods can be soothing.
- Choose smooth, soft, creamy foods like soup, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, casseroles, canned fruits, tender cooked vegetables, pudding, custards, ice cream.
- Vary the flavor of blended, pureed, and soft foods as tolerated to lessen taste fatigue.
- Drink high-calorie, cold liquids such as milk shakes, instant breakfast drinks, and liquid nutritional supplements. They provide calories and nutrients, and are easy to swallow.
- Use viscous lidocaine or analgesics before meals.
- Consider tube feedings if oral intake does not meet your nutritional needs.
- Rinse your mouth whenever you feel you need it to remove debris, to stimulate your gums, to lubricate your mouth, or to put a fresh taste in your mouth.
- Try artificial saliva.
- Avoid frequent intake of high sugar foods which promote tooth decay.
- Clean your mouth and teeth often using a method recommended by your dentist.
- Visit your dentist often. With a dry mouth, you are at greater risk of infections, tooth decay, and more rapid plaque build-up.
If you are a UW Health patient and have further questions or concerns, please call the nutritionist at University of Wisconsin Comprehensive Cancer Center at (608) 263-9128.
Recommended references: Easy-to-Swallow, Easy-to-Chew Cookbook, John Wiley & Sons, Publisher, 2002.
Recommended product: One group of products that may be helpful are Biotene dry mouth products such as mouth moisturizing gel, mouthwash, chewing gum, and tooth paste. 1-800-922-5856.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 08/14/2012
Copyright © 08/03/2012 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#504
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