7 Ways to Overcome Dry Mouth during Cancer Treatment

Tuesday, October 3, 2006 - 2:10pm

By Dena McDowell, MS, RD

Undergoing cancer treatment can cause multiple side effects for patients. A common one is lack of saliva production, which causes an excessively dry mouth. Many different factors can dry out the salivary glands, ranging from medications, chemotherapy drugs, and radiation treatment to the head or neck region. Dry mouth is usually a temporary problem that subsides once the treatment is done and the mouth is healed. Lack of saliva will be persistent if salivary glands were removed in surgery. In either case, the following suggestions may make eating and drinking more appealing.

#1: Drink lots of water

The first thing to do is to make sure you are properly hydrated. It is recommended that you drink 8 to 10 cups of liquid a day. Adding lemons or limes to water can help moisten your mouth. Avoid caffeinated drinks, alcohol, and tobacco because they make dry mouth worse.

#2: Practice good oral hygiene

Brushing with a soft toothbrush before and after meals can help clear bad tastes and bacteria. Mouthwashes are also helpful to cleanse the palate, but make sure to select ones that are alcohol-free. Talk to your pharmacist for recommended brands.

#3: Use saliva substitutes

Saliva substitutes may be helpful for chronic dry mouth. Speak to your health care provider or pharmacist for suggested brands. Some are available over the counter, while others require a prescription.

#4: Eat your meals with gravies and sauces

When eating, you may need to moisten foods with extra gravy or sauces to make it easier to chew and swallow dry foods. Adding broth, soups, gravies, pureed fruits, sour cream, butter, or margarine helps moisten meals. Sipping on liquids after each bite of food also makes eating easier.

#5: Suck on candies and frozen treats

Hard candies like lemon drops, Life Savers, or Jolly Ranchers help add saliva. If you have mouth sores, avoid eating hard candy because they will burn your mouth. Frozen grapes, popsicles, and slushies are also good ways to get the extra moisture your mouth needs.

#6: Sleep with a humidifier

Humidifiers add moisture to the air and often help decrease dry mouth during the night. Make sure to clean the humidifier regularly to prevent mold and bacteria from growing in it. Keeping a glass of water on the nightstand is also helpful. If dry mouth wakes you up, sipping on water may help wet your mouth down during the night.

#7: Improve your sleeping

If you sleep with your mouth open or snore, try sleeping on your side to lessen the snoring. Seeing a sleep specialist may also help.

Dry mouth: foods to avoid

The following foods should be limited in the diet as they will be hard to chew and swallow:

  • Dry meats
  • Poultry and fish without sauce or gravy
  • Dry bread
  • Rolls
  • Pretzels
  • Crackers
  • Chips
  • Cookies
  • Cakes
  • Dried fruit.

Be Proactive about Your Health

Changing your eating habits can help lessen the effects of dry mouth. Practicing good mouth care will also help keep your mouth fresh and clean. Remember to properly hydrate to keep your mouth as moist as possible. Carrying a water bottle with you and sipping on it throughout the day is an easy way to maintain hydration. If dry mouth persists long after your cancer treatment has ended, speak to your health care provider for saliva alternatives.