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Mouth Sores

Mouth sores occur when chemotherapy destroys fast-growing healthy cells lining your mouth. You may hear the following terms when mouth sores are discussed: mucositis, stomatitis, and esophagitis. All describe inflamed soft tissues in the mouth and/or throat. They may be caused by chemotherapy (which can alter the lining of the mouth and throat), the overgrowth of bacteria in your mouth, or other factors unrelated to chemotherapy. Call a member of your care team immediately if you have trouble swallowing or eating; tenderness, swelling, dryness, or mild burning in your mouth and throat; red or white patches in your mouth; or bleeding gums.

Preventing Mouth Sores

There are steps you can take to prevent or treat mouth sores:

Use a mouth rinse at least five times a day

To make a mild mouth rinse, combine one cup of warm water, 1/8 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda. Mix the ingredients to dissolve. Rinse and gargle. If you wear dentures, it is best to remove them so the rinse can reach all of the gum area. Also, avoid alcohol and tobacco because they, too, can alter the lining of your mouth and throat.

Eat soft foods and take small bites

Hard foods can irritate your mouth and soft foods are easier to handle. You can also mix foods with gravy, butter, or sauce, or puree them to make swallowing easier. If necessary, your doctor can prescribe anesthetic medications or spray to numb your mouth and throat long enough to eat meals.

Take good care of your mouth and teeth

It is very important to not just clean but moisturize your mouth as well. Rinse your mouth with the mouth rinse mentioned above at least five times daily. It may be more comfortable to soften your toothbrush with hot water or use a disposable foam stick or cotton swab with a nonirritating cleanser, such as baking soda, to brush your teeth. Remember to use gentle action, whether brushing, flossing, or rinsing.

Use mouthwashes that do not contain alcohol. You will also want to protect your lips by applying salves, petroleum jelly, or vitamin E oil.

Remember to drink plenty of water to keep your mouth from drying out. Because chemotherapy and radiation alter the lining of your mouth, dental problems such as tooth decay can result. Be sure to check with your doctor before making any follow-up dental appointments.

Relieve dry mouth

Chemotherapy or radiation treatment can reduce the flow of saliva, a natural mouth rinse. Saliva carries away bacteria and particles that stick to your teeth. Dry mouth makes it harder to chew and swallow, and can even change the way foods taste. If the problem of dry mouth is severe, your doctor can prescribe medication to produce artificial saliva or anesthetics that you can apply directly to sores and lesions. Remember to use caution in chewing and swallowing when using these numbing agents.

Remember, when you experience side effects, it is important to contact Texas Oncology first before going to an emergency room or urgent care clinic.