How to Cope with Dry Mouth

Dry mouth is known as "xerostomia." This happens when the body's salivary glands do not make enough saliva, or spit, to keep the mouth moist. This side effect happens due to chemotherapy and radiotherapy damaging the salivary glands.

How long does it last for?

During chemotherapy, your saliva may become thicker, which can lead to dry mouth. This is usually temporary, but can take up to 2 to 8 weeks to clear up after treatment ends.

Radiation therapy to the face, neck or head on the other hand, can take 6 months or longer after treatment ends for the salivary glands to start producing saliva again. Dry mouth often improves during the first year after finishing treatment. But many people continue to have some level of long-term dry mouth. This is especially likely if radiation therapy was directed at the salivary glands.

Symptoms:

  • A sticky, dry feeling in the mouth.
  • Thick, stringy saliva.
  • Pain or a burning sensation in the mouth or on the tongue.
  • Cracks in the lips or at the corner of the mouth.
  • A dry, tough tongue.
  • Difficulty chewing, tasting, or swallowing.
  • Difficulty talking.

Why do we need saliva? 

Saliva is needed for chewing, swallowing, tasting, and talking. Without saliva, these activities can become difficult or uncomfortable, making life harder. 

Additionally saliva's most important job is to keep the balance of bacteria in your mouth healthy. Without enough saliva, bacteria and other organisms in the mouth grow too quickly, leading too many infections. Learning about the symptoms and how to reduce them can help keep infections at bay.

 To help reduce symptoms, try these tips:

  • Drinking water and sugarless drinks
  • Sucking on ice chips or having sugar-free chewing gum with xylitol.
  • Avoid things that will dry out the mouth, such as soda, fruit juice, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and alcohol. 
  • When radiation therapy starts, use fluoride rinses and gels. These can give you extra protection. 
  • Stay hydrated. 
  • Drink small sips of water when eating. 
  • Avoid any dental products with alcohol. This can make your mouth drier. 
  • Use a cool mist humidifier, keep running at night and especially in winter
  • Rinse your mouth 4 to 6 times a day, especially after meals, with salt and baking soda. Add half a teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of baking soda in 1 cup of warm water. 

Stick to soft, moist food

When it comes to eating with a dry mouth, it can become hard, so it is best to keep too soft, moist foods. Try sandwiches and french toast or crackers dipped in soup, yogurt, pudding, or pasta with lots of sauce. It is best to eat these foods at a cooler temperature or room temperature.

Things you should avoid are:  

  • Dry, coarse, or hard foods.
  • Spicy or acidic foods, this can burn the mouth. 
  • Sugary foods and drinks. 
  • Caffeine (coffee, tea and sodas). 
  • Alcohol and acidic drinks.

For more tips on oral care visit - 'Oral Care for Cancer Treatment'