Xerostomia or dry mouth can be a troubling side effect of cancer treatments, especially head and neck radiation. Because saliva is needed for chewing, swallowing, tasting and talking, these activities may be more difficult with a dry mouth. Saliva also keeps the mouth clean, helps prevent infection and protects your teeth. Lack of saliva can increase your risk of developing tooth decay or gum disease. Ugh! Ugh! and more Ugh!
Although dry mouth cannot be prevented, it can be managed. Here are some tips for managing dry mouth:
• Sip water throughout the day. Carrying a bottle of water may help you drink more often.
▪ Avoid alcohol, drinks with caffeine, and mouthwashes & other dental products that contain alcohol. Also stop all tobacco use if you smoke or chew tobacco.
▪ Chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free hard candies.
▪ Use a cool mist humidifier, especially at night.
▪ Rinse your mouth four to six times a day, especially after meals, with a solution of salt and baking soda (a half teaspoon of salt and half teaspoon of baking soda in one cup of warm water).
▪ There are also over-the-counter saliva substitutes that might help- make sure to look for ones containing carboxymethylcellulose or hydroxyethyl cellulose.
Please remember to always talk with your health care team about any symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms. And if at all possible, visit a dentist at least two weeks before starting radiation treatment or chemotherapy to check the health of your mouth and teeth.