Coping with dry mouth
People who undergo radiation therapy to the head and neck area often experience very dry mouth (xerostomia). Having a dry mouth can be uncomfortable. It can also lead to frequent infections in your mouth, cavities and problems with your teeth, and difficulty eating, swallowing and speaking.
You may find some relief from dry mouth and its complications if you:
- Brush your teeth several times each day. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and gently brush your teeth several times each day. Tell your doctor if your mouth becomes too sensitive to tolerate gentle brushing.
- Rinse your mouth with warm salt water after meals. Make a mild solution of warm water and salt. Rinse your mouth with this solution after each meal.
- Keep your mouth moistened with water or sugarless candies. Drink water throughout the day to keep your mouth moistened. Also try sugarless gum or sugarless candies to stimulate your mouth to produce saliva.
- Choose moist foods. Avoid dry foods. Moisten dry food with sauce, gravy, broth, butter or milk.
- Avoid acidic or spicy foods and drinks. Choose foods and drinks that won't irritate your mouth. Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages.
Tell your doctor if you have dry mouth. Treatments may help you cope with more-severe signs and symptoms of dry mouth. Your doctor may also refer you to a dietitian who can help you find foods that are easier to eat if you're experiencing dry mouth.
Learning you have salivary gland cancer can be frightening. Each person deals with a cancer diagnosis in his or her own way. With time you'll discover ways of coping that work for you. Until then, you might find some comfort if you:
Learn enough to feel comfortable making treatment decisions. Ask your doctor for details about your cancer — the type, stage and treatment options. The more you know, the more comfortable you may feel when making treatment decisions.
Ask your doctor to recommend reliable sources of information where you can learn more. Good places to start include the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society.
- Ask friends and family to be your support system. Your close friends and family can provide a support system that can help you cope during treatment. They can help you with the small tasks you may not have the energy for during treatment. And they can be there to listen when you need someone to talk with.
Connect with other cancer survivors. Other cancer survivors can offer unique support and insight because they understand what you're experiencing. Connect with other cancer survivors through support groups in your community.
Ask your doctor about support groups or contact your local chapter of the American Cancer Society. Online support groups also are available.
- Take care of yourself during treatment. Get enough rest each night so that you wake feeling rested. Try to exercise when you feel up to it. Choose a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables.
July 14, 2017
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- Dry mouth or xerostomia. Cancer.Net. http://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/side-effects/dry-mouth-or-xerostomia. Accessed May 2, 2017.
- Palliative care. Fort Washington, Pa.: National Comprehensive Cancer Network. http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/f_guidelines.asp. Accessed May 2, 2017.