I have mouth sores from receiving chemotherapy. I've heard that something called "magic mouthwash" might help. What is it?

Answers from Timothy J. Moynihan, M.D.

Magic mouthwash is the term given to a solution used to treat mouth sores (oral mucositis) caused by some forms of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Oral mucositis can be extremely painful and can result in an inability to eat, speak or swallow. Magic mouthwash provides some relief.

There are several versions of magic mouthwash. Some are available in pre-measured kits (First-Mouthwash BLM, First-BXN Mouthwash) that can be mixed together by pharmacists, while others are prepared to order by a pharmacist. If it's determined that magic mouthwash might be helpful, your doctor will write a prescription.

Magic mouthwash usually contains at least three of these basic ingredients:

  • An antibiotic to kill bacteria around the sore
  • An antihistamine or local anesthetic to reduce pain and discomfort
  • An antifungal to reduce fungal growth
  • A corticosteroid to treat inflammation
  • An antacid that helps ensure the other ingredients adequately coat the inside of your mouth

Most formulations of magic mouthwash are intended to be used every four to six hours, and to be held in your mouth for one to two minutes before being either spit out or swallowed. It's recommended that you don't eat or drink for 30 minutes after using magic mouthwash so that the medicine has time to produce an effect.

It's unclear how effective magic mouthwash is in treating oral mucositis. That's because of the lack of standardization in the formulations of mouthwash, and poorly designed studies done to gather data.

Side effects of magic mouthwash may include problems with taste, a burning or tingling sensation in the mouth, drowsiness, constipation, diarrhea, and nausea.

If you have mouth sores, discuss your options with your doctor. In addition to magic mouthwash, medications and other treatments may help relieve your discomfort.

Dec. 10, 2014