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Symptom Management:

Symptom Management

Side Effects of Treatment
Side Effects of Chemotherapy
Appetite Loss
Bladder Disturbances
Incontinence - Urinary
Dryness of the Mouth
Fluid and Electrolyte Imbalances
Flu-like Syndrome
Hair Loss
Menopausal Symptoms
Nausea & Vomiting
Neurological Disturbances
Spinal Cord Compression
Peritoneal Effusions
Shortness of Breath
Skin Conditions
Sleep Problems (Insomnia/Oversleeping)
Sore Mouth
Bone Metastases
Sexuality Issues
Sexual Dysfunction
Dry Mouth

Symptom and Description Your mouth 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 your mouth.

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 you:

  • 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 night.


  • 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 weight.

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2004 2nd Cancer Opinion USA