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Oral mucositis

What to expect

Radiation therapy or chemotherapy may cause mucositis (tissue swelling) in your mouth. You may have symptoms such as:

  • Mouth pain.
  • Mouth sores.
  • Infection.
  • Bleeding, if you are getting chemotherapy. Radiation therapy usually does not lead to bleeding.

With chemotherapy, mucositis heals by itself when there is no infection. Healing usually takes 2 to 4 weeks. Mucositis caused by radiation therapy usually lasts 6 to 8 weeks, depending on how long you have radiation treatment.

Taking care of your mouth

  • Brush your teeth and gums 2 or 3 times a day for 2 to 3 minutes each time.
  • Use a toothbrush with soft bristles.
  • Use a toothpaste with fluoride.
  • Let your toothbrush air dry between brushings.
  • If toothpaste makes your mouth sore, brush with a solution of 1 teaspoon of salt mixed with 4 cups of water. Pour a small amount into a clean cup to dip your toothbrush into each time you brush.
  • Floss gently once a day.

Rinse your mouth 5 or 6 times a day for 1 to 2 minutes each time. Use one of the following solutions when you rinse:

  • 1 teaspoon of salt in 4 cups of water
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 8 ounces of water
  • One half teaspoon of salt and 2 tablespoons of baking soda in 4 cups of water

Do not use rinses that have alcohol in them. You may use an antibacterial rinse 2 to 4 times a day for gum disease.

To further take care of your mouth:

  • Do not eat foods or drink beverages that have a lot of sugar in them. They may cause tooth decay.
  • Use lip care products to keep your lips from drying and cracking.
  • Sip water to ease dry mouth.
  • Eat sugar-free candy or chew sugar-free gum to help keep your mouth moist.
  • Stop wearing your dentures if they cause you to get sores on your gums.

Pain relief

Ask your doctor about treatments you can use in your mouth, including:

  • Bland rinses
  • Mucosal coating agents
  • Water-soluble lubricating agents, including artificial saliva
  • Pain killers

Your doctor may also give you pills for pain or medicine to fight infection in your mouth.

References

National Cancer Institute: Oral Complications of Chemotherapy and Head/Neck Radiation (PDQ®). Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated April 23, 2014. http://cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/oralcomplications/HealthProfessional. Accessed May 7, 2014.


Review Date: 5/7/2014
Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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