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Oral mucositis
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Oral mucositis

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  • What to expect

    Radiation therapy or chemotherapy may cause mucositis (tissue swelling) in your mouth. You may have symptoms such as:

    • Mouth pain.
    • Mouth sores.
    • Infection.
    • Bleeding, if you are getting chemotherapy. Radiation therapy usually does not lead to bleeding.

    With chemotherapy, mucositis heals by itself when there is no infection. Healing usually takes 2 to 4 weeks. Mucositis caused by radiation therapy usually lasts 6 to 8 weeks, depending on how long you have radiation treatment.

  • Taking care of your mouth

    • Brush your teeth and gums 2 or 3 times a day for 2 to 3 minutes each time.
    • Use a toothbrush with soft bristles.
    • Use a toothpaste with fluoride.
    • Let your toothbrush air dry between brushings.
    • If toothpaste makes your mouth sore, brush with a solution of 1 teaspoon of salt mixed with 4 cups of water. Pour a small amount into a clean cup to dip your toothbrush into each time you brush.
    • Floss gently once a day.

    Rinse your mouth 5 or 6 times a day for 1 to 2 minutes each time. Use one of the following solutions when you rinse:

    • 1 teaspoon of salt in 4 cups of water
    • 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 8 ounces of water
    • One half teaspoon of salt and 2 tablespoons of baking soda in 4 cups of water

    Do not use rinses that have alcohol in them. You may use an antibacterial rinse 2 to 4 times a day for gum disease.

    To further take care of your mouth:

    • Do not eat foods or drink beverages that have a lot of sugar in them. They may cause tooth decay.
    • Use lip care products to keep your lips from drying and cracking.
    • Sip water to ease dry mouth.
    • Eat sugar-free candy or chew sugar-free gum to help keep your mouth moist.
    • Stop wearing your dentures if they cause you to get sores on your gums.
  • Pain relief

    Ask your doctor about treatments you can use in your mouth, including:

    • Bland rinses
    • Mucosal coating agents
    • Water-soluble lubricating agents, including artificial saliva
    • Pain killers

    Your doctor may also give you pills for pain or medicine to fight infection in your mouth.

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References

National Cancer Institute: Oral Complications of Chemotherapy and Head/Neck Radiation (PDQ®). Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated April 23, 2014. //cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/oralcomplications/HealthProfessional. Accessed May 7, 2014.

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Review Date: 5/7/2014  

Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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