Dry Mouth During Cancer Treatments

When undergoing cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation, many chemo patients experience oral complications such as xerostomia, or dry mouth. Cancer patients are at a higher risk of developing oral complications for many reasons, some include:

  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy slow or stop the growth of new cells, also hindering the ability of oral tissues to repair themselves.
  • Radiation therapy may directly damage and break down oral tissue, salivary glands and bone.
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can upset the healthy balance of bacteria in the mouth.

Signs and Symptoms of Dry Mouth

  • A sticky, dry feeling in the mouth
  • Thick, stringy saliva
  • Pain in the mouth or on the tongue
  • Chapped lips or cracks at the corners of the mouth
  • A dry, rough tongue
  • Difficulty chewing, tasting, swallowing or talking

    Relieving side effects of dry mouth is an important part of cancer patient care during chemotherapy. Consult with your health care team about any dry mouth symptoms you experience, or any changes that occur in your oral health.

    By taking preventive steps to manage oral complications, you can continue your cancer treatments while improving your quality of life. To maintain good dental hygiene during treatments, you can do the following:

    • Brush gently with a soft-bristle toothbrush after meals
    • Use a toothpaste with natural and organic ingredients 
    • Floss carefully everyday 
    • Rinse with an alcohol-free mouthwash 
    • Drink sips of water often throughout the day
    • Chew sugar-free gum
    • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods

    Dry mouth can also cause other dental problems. Saliva helps maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the mouth, and without enough the bacteria can grow too quickly. This may cause infections and mouth sores, but it can be prevented with dental products containing bioten and other hydrating ingredients.

    Saliva works to wash away food particles and acids left in the mouth after eating. A lack of saliva can lead to gum disease and cavities. This is why it's important to visit the dentist regularly before, during and after any cancer treatments to identify problems before they develop. 

    The Dr. Brite alcohol-free, cleansing mouth rinse features Aloe Vera juice, which has antioxidant and antibacterial properties that help treat mouth ulcers and alleviate dry mouth symptoms. Give it a try and let us know what you think!


    1. How can I prevent dry mouth during chemo?

    Chemotherapy can cause dry mouth, which is a result of the drug attacking the cells that produce saliva. There are many ways to prevent or lessen this side effect. Some examples include: drinking plenty of fluids, sucking on sugarless hard candies, chewing gum and other xylitol-containing products (such as lozenges), using artificial saliva products such as Orajel Mouth Saver Dry Mouth Relief Spray and Biotene Dental Gel for Dry Mouth.

    2. What do you do when a patient has a dry mouth?

    A dry mouth can be caused by a variety of things, such as medications and diseases. Patients with a dry mouth may experience difficulty swallowing, pain when chewing or drinking fluids, bad breath, and an increased risk for cavities. It is important to identify the cause of the dry mouth before recommending treatment. Treatment options include water intake (at least 8 glasses per day), sugar-free gum or candy that contains xylitol (to stimulate saliva flow), artificial saliva products like Oral Balance.

    3. How do you keep your mouth moist after radiation?

    There are many things you can do to keep your mouth moist after chemo. You can eat soft foods like pudding, yogurt, and applesauce. Drinking water is also important because it will help flush out the dryness in your mouth. You can use a humidifier at night or during the day if there's one available to increase moisture levels in the air around you. Finally, using lip balm on your lips will prevent them from becoming chapped and cracking which may lead to infection.

    4. Does Chemo make your throat dry?

    Chemotherapy is a treatment for cancer in which drugs are used to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be given intravenously (IV) or by mouth. The most common side effects of chemotherapy include hair loss, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. Some people may also experience dryness of the throat.

    5. Does chemo affect saliva?

    Saliva thickening or thinning can occur as a side effect of radiation therapy to the head and neck or chemotherapy. Toxic or damaging effects on the salivary glands might result from long-term use of strong medications.

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