How should I take care of my mouth if I'm undergoing cancer treatment?

Good mouth care is important while you are being treated for cancer in order to reduce your risk of infections. Carefully follow these mouth care guidelines after every meal and every four hours while awake:
  • Use a soft bristle toothbrush or cotton swabs to clean your teeth and mouth.
  • Use a non-abrasive toothpaste or baking soda solution. Never use commercial mouthwashes that contain alcohol while you are receiving treatment.
  • Remove and clean dentures between meals.
  • Keep lips moist with a lip balm or water-based lubricating jelly.
  • Drink at least two to three quarts of fluid daily, unless your doctor advises otherwise.
  • Do not share eating or drinking utensils.
  • Eat softer foods or add sauces or gravies. Avoid spicy, acidic, hard, coarse, or crunchy foods.
  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco.
  • Try chilled foods or fluids (ice creams, Popsicles, sherbet, etc.).
  • Try small, frequent meals.
  • Eat a high-protein diet and use vitamin supplements.
If pain is a problem, ask your physician to recommend a medicine that can be swished around in your mouth or directly applied to painful sores. Acetaminophen may also be used.
The following are recommendations for oral health care when undergoing cancer treatment:
  • You should continue to gently brush teeth twice a day unless the dentist recommends otherwise. You should use fluoride toothpaste and look for products that display the American Dental Association's Seal of Acceptance.
  • Patients who receive cancer treatment of the head and neck sometimes discover that they cannot tolerate the flavor of their regular toothpaste. If this happens to you, you can try another flavor that will not irritate mouth tissues.
  • Continue to gently floss once a day. If the gums are sore or bleeding in places, you should avoid those areas but continue to floss other teeth until the condition improves.
  • Your dentist may recommend a mouthrinse in addition to daily brushing. You also may be advised to use fluoride gel at home to help reduce the likelihood of tooth decay.
  • Rinse your mouth several times a day with a solution of baking soda and salt, followed by a plain water rinse. Use one-quarter teaspoon of baking soda and one-eighth teaspoon of salt in one cup of warm water. This is particularly helpful if you experience vomiting after cancer treatment.
  • If dry mouth develops, your dentist may recommend a saliva replacement, available at pharmacies. Taking frequent sips of water, sucking on ice chips or sugar-free candy, or chewing sugarfree gum may provide relief.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Soft, moist foods such as cooked cereals, mashed potatoes and scrambled eggs may be suitable if your mouth is sore.
  • Avoid using tobacco and alcohol and schedule regular dental checkups. Your dentist and physician both want your treatment to be as safe and effective as possible.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.