Close-up of lips

21 January 2020

This content was originally posted on our My Ovacome forum on 16 October 2019

Chemotherapy can harm the cells that line the mouth. This can cause dryness, soreness and ulcers. Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol if possible if you’re affected. Sucking crushed ice while you’re having chemotherapy treatment can reduce the risk of ulcers by reducing blood flow to the mouth, if your doctor advises that it’s safe for you to do so. If your mouth is dry, you can drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. You can sip water throughout the day, suck sweets or ice chips and use sauces and gravies to keep food moist. You can also use mouthwashes or foams to moisten the mouth if you need to.

If your mouth is sore, or if you have ulcers, try to avoid foods like crusty bread that could damage the lining of the mouth and salty or acidic foods like crisps and citrus fruit that could be painful. There are also treatments that coat ulcers or sore areas to protect them and mouthwash containing a local anaesthetic which your team can prescribe. Painkillers can help if the pain is very bad.

As chemotherapy can affect your immune system, mouth infections such as thrush can occur during treatment. Caring for your mouth before and during chemotherapy helps to reduce the risk of infection. If you can go for a dental checkup before starting treatment, it’s helpful to do this and have any necessary treatment done. Daily gentle brushing, mouthwash and flossing can help to keep the mouth clean and free of infection. You can use a soft toothbrush, mild toothpaste and alcohol-free mouthwash if your usual dental products are painful to use. In particular, you may find it more comfortable to use products free from sodium lauryl sulphate, a foaming agent which can be irritating if there’s soreness or ulcers in the mouth. If the pain is too severe to use a toothbrush at all, your nurse may advise you to use a swab soaked in saline to clean around your teeth and gums. You may be advised not to floss if your platelets are low, as this could cause your gums to bleed because the blood is less able to clot. If an infection does occur, you can be prescribed antibiotics.

Chemotherapy can also affect how your food tastes. Some people find that they have a bitter or metallic taste in their mouth or foods they used to enjoy taste different or unpleasant. Sometimes food can seem bland or tasteless. You can try different foods to see what you’re still able to enjoy eating during treatment and retry every few weeks to see if anything changes. If you’re finding food bland or tasteless, you can try adding more herbs and spices or stronger versions of your usual foods. If you’re affected by metallic or other unpleasant tastes in the mouth, some foods that are known as palate cleansers may help to reduce or remove these tastes and allow you to enjoy eating more. Which foods work well as palate cleansers will vary between individuals, but some people find sharp-tasting foods such as pineapple help to refresh their taste, whereas others may prefer sweeteners like syrup and some herbs have also been found to help.

If you have any tips on mouth care during chemotherapy that other members might find helpful, please share them on the forum.

Below are some useful websites if you would like to read more about this:

Ovacome Blog post about oral health

Cancer Research UK 

Macmillan Cancer Support

NHS website