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Dry Mouth and Radiation Therapy

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Updated December 15, 2008

Question: Dry Mouth and Radiation Therapy
I am currently undergoing radiation therapy my mouth has become so dry! Why is this happening and what can I do about it?
Answer: Dry mouth usually occurs due to damage of the salivary glands during radiation therapy. This is a common side effect of radiation treatment of head and neck cancer. Dry mouth can be emotionally frustrating and physically painful. Saliva become very thick, acids cannot be neutralized and eating and drinking can become very difficult. Bacteria can also loom in the mouth causing other complications.

Before Treatment

Before beginning treatment, have a thorough cleansing performed and have any dental work completed. Since the mouth has trouble neutralizing acids because of the lack of saliva, important minerals can be lost within the teeth. This can lead to tooth decay. You may want to consult with a dentist that is experienced in treating complications of oral problems because of radiation therapy.

During Treatment

There are several things you can do to remedy dry mouth during radiation therapy. Try drinking through a straw if drinking liquids is difficult. Many physicians recommend adding a few drops of glycerine (available in drugstores) to water to help it adhere to the mouth better. This will help keep the mouth moist for a longer period of time.

Avoid sugar as much as possible. Sugar also dries the mouth. The same goes for alcohol, caffeinated drinks and smoking. Spicy foods may also cause pain in the mouth, so be careful when making food choices.

After Treatment

The good news is that dry mouth usually goes away after treatment has ended. In rare cases it may become a chronic problem after treatment. There are medications your dentist or physician can prescribe to remedy dry mouth.

It is also important to maintain good oral hygiene and visit regularly with a dentist after treatment.
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