Sore mouth, or oral mucositis, occurs when there is inflammation of the lining of the mouth, and can range from just redness in the mouth and/or gums to severe ulcerations that can cause pain and difficulties in eating, swallowing and speech. Problems associated with sore mouth can have a negative impact on a person’s quality of life, and the best way to manage them is to prevent or treat them early.
Causes of Sore Mouth
The lining of our entire gastrointestinal tract (including our mouth, throat, stomach and intestines), also called the “mucosa”, is made up of cells which divide and grow rapidly. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy kills not only cancer cells, but also other rapidly dividing cells - and this includes the mucosa of the whole gastrointestinal tract. Cancer and cancer treatment-related causes of sore mouth therefore include:
There are other factors that can increase your likelihood of developing sore mouth. These include: poor oral health, smoking, drinking alcohol, dehydration, taking medications that causes dry mouth (e.g. antidepressants) or that predisposes you to mouth infection (e.g. corticosteroids), and certain diseases (e.g. kidney disease, diabetes).
What you need to look out for
Depending on the cause and other associated conditions, signs and symptoms can include:
How it can be treated
In general, having a good oral care regimen (see section on “What you can do”) can help prevent and relieve sore mouth, as well as decrease the risk of associated complications such as infections from mouth ulcers. Depending on the treatment you are receiving, your doctor may recommend additional steps you may take. For instance, you may be advised to suck on ice chips right before, during and after your chemotherapy treatment – this method is called “cryotherapy”, and has been shown to be effective in preventing sore mouth caused by certain chemotherapy drugs.
For pain associated with sore mouth, treatment depends on the severity of pain. Your doctor may prescribe gels or mouth rinses containing numbing agents for pain relief. If these do not adequately control the pain, oral painkillers or opioids may be used.
What you can do
Below are some tips you may find helpful, in preventing and managing sore mouth:
Have a good oral care regimen
Maintain good nutrition and hydration
If you wear dentures
Pain and bleeding
When to call your cancer care team
Please seek immediate medical attention as soon as you notice any of the following, which can indicate complications from sore mouth:
If you have any questions regarding the above information, please call Cancer Helpline at
+65 6225 5655 or approach your doctor or nurse for further details.
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