8 Ways Chemotherapy Can Affect Your Mouth and Throat

Chemotherapy is known for having an array of adverse side effects, which can include hair loss, dry skin, and diarrhea. But did you know that it can also affect your mouth, nose, and throat? Unfortunately, it’s true — but the good news is there are things you can do to combat these issues.

If you’re scheduled to begin cancer treatment, take a moment to browse through these potential throat and mouth side effects of chemotherapy. Knowing ahead of time what you might be facing may help you take the necessary steps toward preventing further problems.

8. Mouth Sores

Mucositis, a condition which is commonly referred to as mouth sores, is the inflammation of the mucous membranes lining the digestive tract from the mouth to the stomach. It can be a common side effect of chemotherapy. While preventing mucositis completely may not be possible, you can reduce its severity by keeping your mouth clean and moist. Avoid substances that can cause sores such as acidic drinks, mouthwash containing alcohol, and hot or spicy food. For treatment, your doctor may recommend a topical solution, vitamin E supplements, antacids, or prescription medication.

Photo: Flickr/Linda

7. Sore Throat

The mucous lining of your throat may become inflamed, or your treatment may harm the tissues and cells in your mouth and throat, leading to a sore throat. You can help prevent further sores, which can be caused by rough or dry food, by eating foods that are soft or wet in texture. Use sauces or gravy to help moisten your food and make it easier to swallow, or try blending your food. Stay away from salty, sugary, or spicy foods, and drink plenty of water. You can also suck on lozenges to help moisten your throat.

Woman having a sore throat lying in bed
Photo: Adobe Stock/Photographee.eu

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6. Dry Mouth

Dry mouth, or xerostomia, happens when the body is not able to make enough saliva. This can be improved by drinking fluids often. Focus on water, but other beverages can help keep your mouth moist. Just like how a lozenge can keep your throat from getting dry and sore, a lozenge can also mitigate mouth dryness. Or you can try sucking on sugar-free candies or ice chips. Your doctor might also be able to prescribe a medication that can help moisten your mouth and throat.

Photo: Flickr/Ben Andreas Harding

5. Tooth Decay

One of the side effects of both chemotherapy and dry mouth is tooth decay. Before beginning any treatments, first see a dentist. If you have any cavities, you can take care of them first. During treatment, clean your teeth regularly and meticulously. Your mouth may be sensitive, so consider using a soft-bristled brush, as well as a Waterpik water-flosser.

Photo: Pixabay

4. Change in Taste and Smell

Foods can begin to taste and smell more bland and less exciting while you’re undergoing chemo or radiation therapy. You may even begin to notice a slight metallic taste. Before adding more salt and sauce to your food, try to find out which foods and flavors are affected. Try other foods to gauge how they taste, and stick with the dishes that taste best to you (while still maintaining a healthy diet, of course). You can add other seasonings or spices as needed, or you can try marinating your food. Mints or lemon drops can help combat any lingering bad tastes in your mouth as well.

Photo: Pixabay

3. Difficulty Swallowing

If you’re having difficulty swallowing, a problem that often coincides with a sore throat, then turn to blended foods to make it easier to eat. Milkshakes, for instance, are cool treats that can both soothe a sore throat or mouth and make swallowing easier. Opt for soft foods, or moisten your food with broth, sauce, or butter. Use a straw for drinking liquids and other softer foods. If things have gotten especially difficult, your doctor may have you undergo swallowing therapy. A speech pathologist can show you more effective ways to use your mouth and throat muscles.

Photo: Pixabay

2. Sensitivity to Hot Or Cold Foods

During and after chemotherapy, you might notice a sensitivity to hot or cold foods or beverages. Try to eat and drink foods and beverages that are at room temperature. Make sure to see a dentist; your sensitivity might be due to a cavity, which is something that’s more likely to occur during chemotherapy treatments.

Photo: Pixabay

1. Mouth Infections

Mouth sores can become more frequent during chemo, and they can become infected if they’re not treated promptly. To keep your mouth healthy, rinse your mouth several times a day with a solution of warm water and baking soda or salt. Practice good oral hygiene gently — in other words, brush regularly, but not with too much vigor, and use a soft toothbrush.

Photo: Pixabay

While you can’t control how chemotherapy affects you, you can do your part to mitigate its side effects. Do your best to maintain good oral hygiene by keeping your teeth brushed and your mouth clean. When eating, opt for soft, room-temperature foods. Incorporate into your diet foods that are low in sodium and low in sugar. Finally, keep your doctor apprised of any and all side effects you experience; they’ll best be able to help you deal with them, and provide you with the relief you need.

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