June 4, 2008 by  
Filed under CANCER

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One of the side effects of radiation, chemotherapy and many drug therapies is xerostomia or dry mouth. It is important to note that sometimes the dose of radiation may cause permanent damage to the salivary glands. The job of saliva is not only to keep the mouth moist for eating and swallowing but to rinse away food and bacteria. Dry mouth puts cancer patients at greater risk for dental disease and infections.

Salivary glands:

  • Parotid-located on either side of the face, below and behind the ear
  • Submaxillary- located inside the lower jaw
  • Sublingual-located under the tongue

Per the National Cancer Institute, symptoms of dry mouth include:

  • Thick, stringy saliva.
  • Increased thirst.
  • Changes in taste, swallowing, and speech.
  • A sore or burning feeling (especially on the tongue).
  • Cuts or cracks in the lips or at the corners of the mouth.
  • Changes in the surface of the tongue.
  • Difficulty wearing dentures.

Managing xerostomia:

Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) therapies include:

  • Pilocarpine (Salegen) stimulates the salivary glands to produce saliva
  • Artificial Saliva( Salivart, Xerolube) provides temporary relief. Products are liquids or sprays
  • Toothpastes (Biotene Antibacterial Dry Mouth Toothpaste)
  • Gum (Biotene Dry Mouth Gum)

Self Care:

  • Avoid alcohol which is a drying agent
  • Avoid lemon or glycerin oral swabs which are drying
  • Use lip balms to avoid cracked lips
  • Keep your mouth moist with water, ice, frozen pops
  • Use a humidifier
  • Rinse your mouth frequently
  • Breathe through your nose
  • Suck on sugarless candy or lozenges
  • Avoid smoking and tobacco products
  • Maintain a regime of regular good and gentle oral care

Eating Tips:

  • Avoid hot foods or beverages. Serve warm.
  • Avoid dry foods instead opting for moist food
  • Increase your amount of high nourishment beverages such as protein shakes
  • Increase your intake of non caffeine beverages to thin saliva and keep your mouth clean
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2 Responses to “Xerostomia”
  1. So very glad things are moving forward for you. Thanks so much for taking time to post and share with us. Keep us updated.

  2. Psiplex says:

    Tina, very timely post! Just two weeks past radiation therapy for head and neck cancer and I have experienced most of the symptoms described in your article. Currently, I am using a PEG tube for nutrition, but hope to regain more use of my salivary glands in the next year. I underwent 6 weeks of radiation and then 2 weeks of booster radiation with a smaller field and lower dose. It left me with xerostomia and a really sore throat. Just noticed about 10 days in, things started to improve incrementally. Lessening of mucous and voice a little stronger each day. I am able to eat scrambled eggs, cottage cheese and drink milkshakes for added protein and nutrition. Going to be a slow road back, but it’s all worth it to be cancer-free.

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.

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