Dry Mouth from Radiation

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Radiation for head and neck cancers can cause dry mouth. This side effect can feel like "cotton mouth" and cause:

  • Bad breath
  • Taste loss
  • Pain
  • Sleeplessness
  • Burning on your tongue
  • Problems talking, chewing, swallowing

What Causes Dry Mouth from Radiation?

Radiation can damage your salivary glands. The treatment changes the amount of saliva your produce. It can also change the texture and acid in the saliva.

These symptoms tend to feel worse during radiation treatment. Your salivary glands will heal over time.

Dry Mouth From Other Treatments

Other cancer treatments can cause dry mouth. You could get symptoms from:

  • Chemo
  • Antidepressants
  • Pain medicine
  • Water pills

Medicine for Dry Mouth

Talk to your provider. If the symptoms get to be too much, solutions exist. You can get medicine that helps your glands make more saliva. They may also suggest mouth rinses and saliva substitutes.

Tips for Helping Dry Mouth 

When dealing with dry mouth from radiation, drink lots of water in small sips to stay hydrated.

Some drinks can dry out and worsen your mouth. You'll want to avoid:

  • Alcohol
  • Drinks with caffeine
  • Acidic juices like lemon, grapefruit, and tomato

Foods to stay away from, because they'll burn your tongue and irritate your mouth:

  • Hard foods, like chips and granola
  • Sticky foods, like peanut butter and candy
  • Hot, spicy foods

Tips to Care For a Sensitive Mouth

Try these steps:

  • Liquids bother you? Try drinking from a straw.
  • Take small bites.
  • Chew food well.
  • Suck on ice chips to relieve pain.
  • Use a soft toothbrush.

You'll also want to avoid mouthwash and other products with alcohol. They can burn sores and dry your mouth even more.

The End of Dry Mouth

Your dry mouth symptoms will go away.

Your doctor or care team can tell you when it’s safe to visit the dentist for a check up and cleaning. Your happy, healthy mouth will return.