Lots of people in treatment for cancer are affected by dry mouth. Sometimes, dry mouth can last beyond the end of treatment. The medical term is xerostomia, from the Greek words xeros (dry) and stoma (mouth). Dry mouth happens when the mouth tissues dry out due to a lack of saliva. Saliva’s important because it reduces the germ level in the mouth, helps cleanse the mouth, removes food debris and maintains health of the tissues lining the mouth. All of these functions help prevent cavities, too.
If dry mouth becomes severe, people can develop chewing, swallowing, tasting and talking problems. It’s most common in patients who’ve been treated with radiation for head and neck cancer.
Some symptoms of dry mouth include:
- Mouth sores, where you get little white or red spots in the mouth.
- Increased mouth sensitivity. Your mouth may hurt, especially while eating.
- A change in taste. You may have a “funny taste” in your mouth.
- Gum soreness.
- Tooth decay and bad breath. Saliva helps prevent these, so use mouth moisturizers, or medication that make up for lost saliva.
- Difficulty swallowing. Dry or crumbly foods may be especially difficult.
Whatever your cause, tell your doctor if you’ve begun to experience dry mouth.