Xerostomia. The scientific term for an abnormal dryness of the mouth, it’s both an intimidating word and an unfortunate side effect of conventional cancer treatments.
Too often I see it in patients who’ve found us at Hope4Cancer only after pursuing chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. These harsh treatment methods have left them with desert-dry mouths, and they’re desperate for management tips. Here’s the information I usually share with them as they begin our regimen of nontoxic, holistic therapies.
Causes of Xerostomia
Dry mouth happens when the salivary glands don’t produce enough saliva to keep the mouth moist. It can be triggered by several conventional cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, which thickens the saliva in the short-term, and radiation therapy (especially to the head, face or neck), which often does long-term damage to the salivary glands.
Additionally, pain medications, antidepressants and diuretics may lead to dry mouth, as can dehydration, candidiasis (a fungal infection of the mouth), thrush and graft-versus-host disease.
Signs and Symptoms
So aside from general mouthfeel, how can you tell if you’re experiencing dry mouth? I tell my patients to be on the lookout for any of these signs:
- Thick, sticky and stringy saliva
- Burning or painful sensations anywhere in the mouth
- Dry, chapped lips
- Trouble talking, chewing, tasting and swallowing
I also let them know dry mouth may be the culprit if they’re experiencing an unusual amount of dental problems, such as mouth sores, oral infections, gum disease or cavities. This is because saliva not only washes away food particles that linger in our mouths after we eat, but it also keeps the bacteria in the mouth in a balanced state. When there isn’t enough saliva to perform these functions, acids and other harmful organisms are able to thrive.
Management of Xerostomia
Because everyday tasks – such as talking, chewing, tasting and swallowing – are tough to accomplish with dry mouth, it’s important to learn how to effectively manage it. Here are some tips:
- Drink eight to 12 glasses of water each day, and take small sips of water throughout the day.
- Rinse your mouth with a water, salt and baking soda combination a few times each day.
- Use lip balm whenever your lips feel dry.
- Try over-the-counter saliva substitutes and/or other products that have the pH of saliva.
- Eat soft, moist foods; you can moisten dry foods with sauces and broth.
- Avoid foods that are too hot, cold, dry, coarse, acidic and/or spicy.
- Use a soft-bristle toothbrush to clean your teeth after each meal.
- Use unwaxed floss and an alcohol-free mouthwash once each day.
- Run a cool-mist humidifier at night.
The Hope4Cancer Difference
Unfortunately, there’s no way to prevent or cure dry mouth when chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy are used. That’s why, at Hope4Cancer, we focus on alternative treatment options—those that are safe, effective and nontoxic.
For more than 25 years, I’ve traveled the globe to find the best methods to holistically treat cancer patients of all types, and I’ve found alternatives that work to support and nurture the entire body. We’re always thinking about the whole person as we help our patients heal. If you’re frustrated by the side effects of conventional cancer treatments, we would love to you in your healing journey.