Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Mouth and Throat Problems

Some types of chemotherapy harm the fast-growing cells that line your mouth, throat, and lips and can affect your teeth, gums, lining of your mouth and the glands that make saliva. Most mouth problems go away a few days after your chemotherapy treatment is completed.

 

Ways to Manage Mouth and Throat Problems:

  • Visit a dentist at least 2 weeks before starting chemotherapy. Having your mouth as healthy as possible is important. Dental work should be performed before your chemotherapy begins. If you cannot go to the dentist before chemotherapy starts, ask your doctor or nurse when it is safe to go. Be sure to tell your dentist that you have cancer and about your treatment plan.
  • Check your mouth and tongue every day. This way, you can see or feel problems (such as mouth sores, white spots, or infections) as soon as they start. Inform your doctor or nurse about these problems right away.
  • Keep your mouth moist. Sip water throughout the day, suck on ice chips or sugar-free hard candy, or chew sugar-free gum.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse about saliva substitutes if your mouth is always dry.
  • Clean your mouth, teeth, gums and tongue
  • Brush your teeth, gums, and tongue after each meal and at bedtime.
  • Use an extra-soft toothbrush. You can make the bristles even softer by rinsing your toothbrush in hot water before you brush.
  • If brushing is painful, try cleaning your teeth with cotton swabs.
  • Use fluoride toothpaste or special fluoride gel that your dentist prescribes.
  • Do not use mouthwash that contains alcohol. Instead, rinse your mouth 3 to 4 times a day with a solution of 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1/8 teaspoon salt in 1 cup of warm water. Follow this with a plain water rinse.
  • Gently floss your teeth every day. If your gums bleed or hurt, avoid these areas but floss your other teeth. Ask your doctor or nurse about flossing if your platelet count is low.
  • If you wear dentures, make sure they fit well and keep them clean. Also, limit the length of time that you wear them.
    Be careful what you eat when your mouth is sore. Choose foods that are moist, soft, and easy to chew or swallow. These include cooked cereals, mashed potatoes and scrambled eggs.
  • Use a blender to purée cooked foods so that they are easier to eat. To help avoid infection, be sure to wash all blender parts before and after using them. If possible, it is best to wash them in a dishwasher.
  • Take small bites of food, chew slowly, and sip liquids while you eat.
  • Soften food with gravy, sauces, broth, yoghurt or other liquids.
  • Eat food that is cool or at room temperature. You may find that warm and hot foods hurt your mouth or throat.
  • Suck on ice chips or popsicles. These can relieve mouth pain.
  • Ask your dietician for ideas of foods that are easy to eat.
  • Call your doctor, nurse or dentist if your mouth hurts a lot. Your doctor or dentist may prescribe medicine for pain or to keep your mouth moist. Make sure to give your dentist the phone number of your doctor and nurse.
  • Stay away from things that can hurt, scrape or burn your mouth, such as:
    • Sharp or crunchy foods such as crackers and potato or corn chips.
    • Spicy foods, such as hot sauce, curry dishes, salsa and chilli.
    • Citrus fruits or juices such as orange, lemon, and grapefruit.
    • Food and drinks that contain a lot of sugar, such as candy or soda.
    • Beer, wine and other types of alcohol.
    • Toothpicks or other sharp objects.
    • Tobacco products, including cigarettes, pipes, cigars and chewing tobacco.

Mouth and Throat Problems that may be a Side Effect of Chemotherapy Include:

  • Dry mouth (producing little or no saliva).
  • Changes in taste and smell (such as when food tastes like metal or chalk, has no taste or does not taste or smell like it used to).
  • Infections of your gums, teeth, or tongue.
  • Increased sensitivity to hot or cold foods.
  • Mouth sores.
  • Trouble eating when your mouth gets very sore.
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