Oral mucositis - self-care
Cancer treatment - mucositis; Cancer treatment - mouth pain; Cancer treatment - mouth sores; Chemotherapy - mucositis; Chemotherapy - mouth pain; Chemotherapy - mouth sores; Radiation therapy - mucositis; Radiation therapy - mouth pain; Radiation therapy - mouth sores
What to Expect
- Mouth pain.
- Mouth sores.
- Bleeding, if you are getting chemotherapy. Radiation therapy usually does not lead to bleeding.
With chemotherapy, mucositis heals by itself when there is no infection. Healing usually takes 2 to 4 weeks. Mucositis caused by radiation therapy usually lasts 6 to 8 weeks, depending on how long you have radiation treatment.
Taking 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 or 3 times a day for 2 to 3 minutes each time.
- Use a toothbrush with soft bristles.
- Use a toothpaste with fluoride.
- Let your toothbrush air dry between brushings.
- If toothpaste makes your mouth sore, brush with a solution of 1 teaspoon of salt mixed with 4 cups 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:
- 1 teaspoon of salt in 4 cups of water
- 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 8 ounces of water
- One half teaspoon of salt and 2 tablespoons of baking soda in 4 cups of water
DO NOT use rinses that have alcohol in them. You may use an antibacterial rinse 2 to 4 times a day for gum disease.
To further take care of your mouth:
- DO NOT eat foods or drink beverages that have a lot of sugar in them. They may cause tooth decay.
- Use lip care products to keep your lips from drying and cracking.
- Sip water to ease dry mouth.
- Eat sugar-free candy or chew sugar-free gum to help keep your mouth moist.
- Stop wearing your dentures if they cause you to get sores on your gums.
Ask your health care provider about treatments you can use in your mouth, including:
- Bland rinses
- Mucosal coating agents
- Water-soluble lubricating agents, including artificial saliva
- Pain medicine
Your provider may also give you pills for pain or medicine to fight infection in your mouth.
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.
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.