may become dry as a result of your cancer therapy. (The medical
name for this is xerostomia.) 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 problems while eating,
talking, and sleeping. A dry mouth can be uncomfortable.
A dry mouth increases the chances of your developing dental
cavities. A dry mouth could also be a sign of an infection in
If you smoke or chew tobacco, or drink alcoholic beverages,
the dryness will be worse.
Learning Needs You will need to learn how to inspect your
mouth and what to report to your health care giver. You will
need to learn how to care for your mouth and ways to increase
the moisture in your mouth. In some instances, you will learn
about applying fluoride to your teeth. You will also learn how
to adapt your diet to the changes in your mouth.
Prevention It is not likely that you can prevent this
symptom completely. You may be able to lessen the effects if
- Follow the mouth-care guidelines
- Avoid use of mouth irritants such as tobacco and alcohol
- Visit your dentist regularly
- Use medication (pilocarpine) if prescribed for you to help
increase the saliva in your mouth
Management 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 this problem.
1. Mouth care: Brush your teeth with a soft-bristle brush
before and after each meal and at bedtime. If you usually floss
your teeth and your gums are not sore, floss your teeth at
bedtime. During the day, rinse your mouth with a cup of salt
water (one-fourth teaspoon of salt in one cup of water) every 2
hours or more frequently.
2. Fluoride application: Your dentist may have you use
fluoride on a daily basis. If your dentist has given you
fluoride trays or carriers to use, use these items as
instructed. If instructions have not been given, after brushing
and flossing your teeth at bedtime, brush the fluoride on your
teeth, spit out the extra fluoride, and do not eat or drink for
30 minutes afterward.
3. Diet: Eat soft, moist foods such as custards, foods
with sauces and gravies, and stewed foods. Avoid hard, dry, and
sticky foods such as crackers, chips, and peanut butter. Avoid
spicy or acidic foods such as citrus fruits and juices. Drink
liquids such as water and nonacidic juices with your meals.
Avoid alcoholic beverages because these can increase your mouth
dryness. Avoid tobacco products.
4. Use of saliva substitutes and other lubricants: Many
different products are available. The product you choose should
be low in sugar content and comfortable to use. Talk with your
dentist or other healthcare provider for suggestions. Place a
small pat of butter or a teaspoon of olive oil in your mouth at
bedtime to decrease the dryness in your mouth during the night.
Keep a container of water at your bedside to sip on during the
- Be sure you understand what to expect, what to do about
it, and when to call your doctor, dentist, or nurse.
- Have emergency phone numbers available.
- If you are unsure of any instructions, be sure to ask your
doctor and nurse.
- See your dentist on a regular basis.
- Call your dentist if you develop mouth or tooth pain. If
you have cavities or discomfort in your mouth, you need to
see your dentist.
By following these guidelines, you will minimize mouth
problem and cavities and be better able to eat and maintain your