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Managing Dry Mouth

Many cancer patients experience dry mouth (xerostomia) as a side effect of treatment. For some, the dryness may be mild and can be relieved with a drink of water. For others, the dryness may be more severe and cause difficulty while eating and talking. A dry mouth can feel uncomfortable.

A dry mouth increases the chances of your developing dental cavities. If you smoke or chew tobacco, or drink alcoholic beverages, the dryness will be worse.

Tips for Prevention

You may not be able to prevent dry mouth completely. But you may be able to lessen the effects if you:

  • Follow the mouth-care guidelines below

  • When eating, take small bites of food and chew well

  • Chew sugarless gum or suck on sugarless candy to stimulate saliva

  • Avoid use of mouth irritants such as tobacco and alcohol

  • Visit your dentist regularly

  • Use medication if prescribed for you to help increase the saliva in your mouth

Ways to Manage Dry Mouth

Depending on your situation, good oral hygiene, care in selecting the foods that you eat, and seeing your dentist on a regular basis will help you deal with dry mouth.

Mouth care: Brush your teeth gently at least twice a day and pay special attention to the gum line. Floss at least once a day. During the day, rinse your mouth with a cup of salt water (1/4 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of water) before and after meals.

Diet: Eat soft, moist foods such as canned fruits, foods with sauces and gravies, and stewed foods. Avoid hard, dry, and sticky foods such as crackers, chips, and cookies. Avoid spicy or acidic foods such as citrus fruits and juices. Drink liquids such as water and nonacidic juices with your meals. Keep a glass of water at your bedside to sip on during the night. Avoid alcoholic beverages because these can increase your mouth dryness. Avoid tobacco products.

Saliva substitutes and other lubricants: Many different products are available. Talk with your dentist for suggestions.

“Dealing with Dry Mouth.” Journal of the American Dental Association. May 2005, vol. 136, pp. 703. http://www.ada.org/sections/scienceAndResearch/pdfs/patient_50.pdf Accessed 2013.

“Dry Mouth.” Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/d/dry-mouth Accessed 2013.

“Dry Mouth.” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, October 2012. www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/DryMouth/DryMouth.htm Accessed 2013.

“Mouth Dryness.” American Cancer Society. March 24, 2011. www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/PhysicalSideEffects/DealingwithSymptomsatHome/caring-for-the-patient-with-cancer-at-home-mouth-dryness Accessed 2013.

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