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Tips on Coping with Mouth, Gum, and Throat Problems Related to Radiation Therapy
Understanding the Problem
- Mucositis—inflammation of mucous membranes in the mouth
- Esophagitis—inflammation of the esophagus, which is the muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach
- Dry mouth
- Change or loss of taste
- Gum disease
- Problems using the mouth or jaw caused by bone loss or noncancerous tumors
Using Coping Strategies
- Check your mouth every day to detect problems, such as mouth sores or white patches. Report any problems to your doctor.
- Keep your mouth moist. You can do this by:
- Sucking on ice
- Sipping water or spraying your mouth with water often throughout the day
- Chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on hard candy
- Taking medication prescribed by your doctor to increase saliva
- Brush your teeth, gums, and tongue after eating and before going to bed. Use a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Also, floss gently once a day.
- Do not use mouthwashes that contain alcohol. Instead, mix ¼ teaspoon (1.23 milliliters [ml]) baking soda, 1/8 teaspoon (.62 ml) salt, and 1 cup (237 ml) of warm water. Rinse your mouth with this solution every 1-2 hours.
- If you wear dentures, soak and brush them every day.
- Do not smoke cigarettes, cigars, pipes or use chewing tobacco.
Eating and Drinking Tips
- Eat foods that are easy to chew and swallow, like mashed potatoes and scrambled eggs. You can moisten foods with sauce, broth, or gravy.
- Foods should be warm or room temperature.
- Take small bites and chew slowly.
- Sip water while eating.
- Drink cool beverages.
- Avoid foods that may harm your mouth, such as:
- Crunchy foods, like chips
- Hot foods
- Spicy foods
- Sugary foods and drinks
- Tomatoes, oranges, lemons, and grapefruits
- Sit up straight and bend your head slightly when eating and drinking. Stay upright for at least 30 minutes after eating.
Tips for Dealing with Stiffness
- Open and close your mouth as far as you can without feeling pain.
- Do 20 at a time, three times per day..
Tips for Dealing With Pain
- Applying cold or heat to the painful area
- Physical therapy
Talk With Your Doctor
- Feel like you are choking
- Have trouble swallowing
- Cough when eating or drinking
American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org
National Cancer Institute http://www.cancer.gov
BC Cancer Agency http://www.bccancer.bc.ca
Canadian Cancer Society http://www.cancer.ca
Epstein JB, Murphy BA. Late effects of radiation treatment on oral health for patients with head and neck cancer. American Society of Clinical Oncology website. Available at: http://meetinglibrary.asco.org/content/53-65. Accessed October 14, 2013.
Oral complications of chemotherapy and head/neck radiation (PDQ). Fox Chase Cancer Center website. Available at: http://www.foxchase.org/cancer/pdq/English/Patients/OralComplicationsofChemotherapyandHeadNeckRadiation.html. Accessed October 14, 2013.
Radiation therapy side effects and ways to manage them. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/radiation-therapy-and-you/page8. Updated April 20, 2007. Accessed October 14, 2013.
Radiation therapy to the head and neck. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/treatmenttypes/radiation/understandingradiationtherapyaguideforpatientsandfamilies/understanding-radiation-therapy-radiation-to-head-and-neck. Updated January 24, 2013. Accessed October 14, 2013
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 10/2013
- Update Date: 10/14/2013