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Focus on side effects: Sore Mouth

written by

Leukaemia Care, Charity

What is oral mucositis?

Oral mucositis is the painful inflammation of the lining of the mouth, which results in redness, soreness, ulceration and sometimes bleeding. It is a common side effect of chemotherapy and radiotherapy and usually begins four to ten days after chemotherapy and can last up to seven to ten days (or longer depending on treatment).

Oral mucositis can lead to a number of problems such as difficulty swallowing, difficulty in eating and drinking, changes in taste sensation and difficulty speaking.

Why have I developed oral mucositis?

Radiotherapy and chemotherapy are extremely effective treatments for killing cancerous cells but they can also damage healthy cells, particularly cells in the mucous membrane, which are more vulnerable to damage. The mucous membrane is the soft layer of tissue that lines your digestive system, including the mouth.

Radiotherapy and chemotherapy damage the DNA of these cells which prevents them from regenerating. This layer of tissue that lines your mucous membrane eventually breaks down and ulcers will form. Your medical team will try to ensure that the damage to the mucous membrane is limited but it is not always possible to prevent damage occurring. Oral mucositis can sometimes develop during and after a bone marrow transplant. 

Managing oral mucositis

Preventative treatment is key. Good oral hygiene is the best option for preventing or minimising oral mucositis as it protects the mouth from infection, reduces irritation and the formation of plaque.

You can keep your mouth clean by:

1. Brushing your teeth with a soft tooth brush regularly, especially after meals

2. Rinsing your mouth with a non-alcoholic mouth wash, salt water or baking soda

3. Keeping your lips moist to avoid dryness

Before you begin any course of chemotherapy, it is advisable to get a dental examination as this will help to correct any pre-existing dental problems.

You can also help to manage mouth pain by:

1. Avoiding hot or spicy foods – keep them bland

2. Avoiding hard foods that could scrape the mouth lining

3. Drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration which can occur due to difficulty in swallowing

4. Eating soft fruits

5. Avoiding biting your lips

6. Avoiding or reducing alcohol and smoking

You can also buy artificial saliva and oral solutions that can help with pain and discomfort. Ask your specialist for advice on what’s available.

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