Dry mouth during cancer treatment

Head and neck radiation, some chemotherapy treatments, and certain medicines will lead to dry mouth and taste changes. Chewing and swallowing becomes more difficult. Lack of saliva promotes cavities since it is no longer available to cleanse the teeth of food particles. Use the following ideas to improve dry mouth. Dry mouth usually lasts just a short time.

General guidelines

  • Keep the mouth clean. Use a soft bristled toothbrush.
  • Rinse every two waking hours with a salt-water solution of 1-teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon baking soda mixed into 1 quart of lukewarm tap water.
  • Avoid commercial mouthwashes.
  • Sip water frequently; carry a water bottle.
  • Suck, not chew, on ice chips.
  • Moisten foods with sauce and gravy.
  • Avoid foods that stick to the mouth; i.e., peanut butter.
  • Avoid dry foods; i.e., dry bread, rolls, rice, pretzels, chips.
  • Increase saliva flow by eating or drinking very sweet or tart foods and beverages.
  • Suck on sour sugar-free candy or chew sugar-free gum.
  • Ask about medicines that increase saliva.
  • Use an over-the-counter artificial saliva product.
  • Use lip balm or petroleum jelly to moisten dry lips.
  • Moisten the bedroom with a cool mist humidifier. Keep the humidifier clean using a diluted bleach solution.

Head and neck radiation

  • Blend soft cooked chicken and fish with broth or bouillon.
  • Blend canned or naturally moist fruits and vegetables.
  • Choose thinned, cooked cereals.
  • Soak cookies and cake in milk.
  • Drink 12 cups of liquid daily.
  • Avoid acidic foods and beverages.


  • Dry mouth usually is of short duration.

UI Cancer Information Service

Last reviewed: 
April 2018

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