Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Is there any way to prevent mouth sores after receiving radiation or chemotherapy? A. When it comes to radiation, newer technologies are helping to spare healthy tissues and reduce damage to the lining of the mouth. As discussed elsewhere in this booklet, there are effective ways to manage this side effect and lessen its symptoms. However, at the moment there is no known way to prevent mouth sores completely, including those caused by chemotherapy. That’s why it is important to ask your health care team whether your particular treatment may cause mouth sores and if so, to work closely with the different members of your team to manage them.

Seeing your dentist for screening before starting cancer treatments is especially important. He or she can recommend the type of toothbrush and mouthwashes to use during treatments. Keeping in close touch with your dentist and medical oncologist will enable you stay on top of any mouth sores you may develop.

Q. My mouth sores developed after I received radiation to my jaw. I also have a lot of mucus build-up in my mouth. How can I deal with this?

A. Although an increased level of mucus in your is not the same as oral mucositis, the increased mucus can make the oral mucositis worse. There are a number of things both you and your doctor can do to control mucus:

  • Rinse and gargle often with a salt and baking soda mixture. Stir half a teaspoon of table salt and half a teaspoon of baking soda into a quart of plain water.
  • Use a humidifier at night to help thin out the mucus.
  • Ask your doctor about cough syrups that contain chlorpheniramine. These products can reduce secretions.
  • Your doctor may also recommend cough medicines that contain guaifenesin, such as Robitussin DM or Humibid, to thin the mucus.
  • If the secretions become very heavy, your doctor may need to order a portable suction machine that you can use to remove the mucus.

Q. My dentist tells me that I need a root canal. Is it okay to have this done during my cancer treatment? A. In order to make that decision, your dentist needs to consult with your oncologist about the status of your blood counts, including your white blood cells. These cells are important to the immune system for fighting infection. If your white cell count is low, it is probably best to delay the root canal and treat any tooth pain or infection with antibiotics and pain medication first. When the white blood cells return to a safe level and your oncologist feels it is safe for you to have the root canal, you can have the procedure. But before you go ahead, be sure to discuss it with your cancer care team.