An NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center
By City of Hope | August 7, 2017

Cancer treatment often causes discomfort, but many patients don’t realize that it can also cause frustrating oral side effects.

In fact, more than one-third of patients being treated for cancer experience side effects in the mouth, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Such problems aren’t just uncomfortable. They can interfere with your ability to eat and drink, putting you at increased risk of malnutrition and dehydration. Fortunately, you can take steps to minimize the discomfort.

These 7 strategies will help you keep smiling.

1. Be proactive. See a dentist before beginning cancer treatment to take care of any existing dental problems and discuss ways to protect your oral health.

2. Take care. During treatment, brush teeth gently with an extra-soft toothbrush after meals and at bedtime. Floss daily, but do it with a tender touch and avoid areas that are bleeding and sore.

3. Just add water. Drink a lot of water, chew ice chips or sugar-free gum, and look into over-the-counter saliva substitutes to tackle dry mouth. Avoid alcohol-based mouthwash.

4. Pick mouth-friendly foods. If your mouth is sore, choose soft foods that are easy to chew and swallow such as mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs, broth, yogurt and smoothies. If you’re seeing a nutritionist, ask for gentle-yet-healthy food recommendations.

5. And avoid unfriendly foods. Skip sharp foods like tortilla chips or peanut brittle. Also avoid spicy and acidic foods and drinks (such as hot sauce or lemonade), which can irritate the sensitive soft tissue of your mouth. And try to limit sugar, which can cause cavities.

6. Swish and repeat. To treat sores and keep your mouth clean, the NIH recommends mixing up a mouthwash of 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in 4 cups of water. Rinse with the solution regularly, and follow with a plain-water rinse. (If you suffer from dry mouth, skip the salt and simply mix baking soda and water.)

7. Ask for advice. If you experience mouth pain or sores, talk to your health care team promptly. They may be able to prescribe medications to ease the pain or suggest other ways to help.

To connect with fellow cancer fighters, caregivers and supporters alike, join our Community of the Hopeful today. is an online community, a space for everyone who has been touched by cancer to make connections, share their stories, offer support and seek advice.

Sign up to receive the latest updates on City of Hope news, medical breakthroughs, and prevention tips straight to your email inbox!

*Required Fields