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What to expect
Radiation therapy or chemotherapy may cause mucositis (tissue swelling) in your mouth. You may have symptoms such as:
- 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
- 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 doctor about treatments you can use in your mouth, including:
- Bland rinses
- Mucosal coating agents
- Water-soluble lubricating agents, including artificial saliva
- Pain killers
Your doctor may also give you pills for pain or medicine to fight infection in your mouth.
National Cancer Institute: Oral Complications of Chemotherapy and Head/Neck Radiation (PDQ®). Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated April 23, 2014. http://cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/oralcomplications/HealthProfessional. Accessed May 7, 2014.
Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.