You can do a lot to help to keep your mouth healthy. It is important to inspect your mouth daily for any signs of redness, swelling, sores, white patches or bleeding. Your nurse can show you how to do this.
- Clean your teeth or dentures gently every morning and evening, as well as after each meal.
- Use a soft-bristled or child's toothbrush. Toothbrush bristles can also be softened in hot water. An electric toothbrush can clean your teeth very effectively.
- Replace your toothbrush frequently to prevent problems with infection.
- If your toothpaste stings, or brushing your teeth makes you feel sick, try using a plain water mouthwash.
- If you have been sick, rinse out your mouth before cleaning your teeth as the acid in your vomit may damage your teeth.
- If your doctor prescribes a mouthwash for you, use it regularly as prescribed to prevent your mouth becoming sore.
- Sometimes, using a mouthwash over a long period of time may cause your teeth to discolour slightly. Let your doctor know if this happens to you. When you stop using the mouthwash, your teeth will return to their normal colour.
- You can gently use dental tape or floss daily.
- Keep your lips moist by using a recommended lubricant.
- Avoid neat spirits, tobacco, hot spices, garlic, onion, vinegar and salty food. These may irritate your mouth.
- Keep your mouth and food moist. Add gravies and sauces to your food to help swallowing.
- Some crunchy foods may damage your gums and should be avoided if you have, or are at risk of developing bleeding gums.
- Try to drink at least one and a half litres (three pints) of fluid a day – water, tea, weak coffee, and soft drinks such as apple juice.
- Avoid acidic drinks, such as orange and grapefruit juice. Warm herbal teas may be more soothing.
- Let your doctor know if you have mouth ulcers, as you may need medicines to help heal the ulcers and clear any infection.
How your dentist can help you
Dentists can advise on any mouth problems caused by your treatment and can help you get your teeth and gums into the healthiest possible condition.
If your mouth becomes dry during your illness or treatment for your illness, there will be less saliva to protect the teeth. Because of this your dentist may recommend that you use fluoride toothpaste or use a fluoride mouthwash during your treatment to help protect your teeth.
If you need to have dental work done during certain treatments, for example, chemotherapy, it may be important to discuss this with your doctor or nurse specialist. There might be times during your treatment when you’re at risk of bleeding and infection, meaning the timing of any dental work needs to be planned very carefully.
It can often be a good idea to see a dentist once you have finished your treatment. Your teeth may be more prone to decay because of your treatment and it can be helpful to get a dental check-up.
How your doctor can help you
Many hospitals have developed their own mouth care guidelines. You may have an oral (mouth) assessment at your hospital:
- to check your usual mouth care routine
- to identify the care needed to keep your mouth healthy
An oral assessment guide can be useful for all patients who have mouth problems or who are at high risk of developing them. An oral assessment is helpful in deciding which treatment should be prescribed if your mouth becomes sore. Do not worry if you are not offered this at your hospital. It is important to tell your doctor and nurses that you have a sore mouth so that they can assess your mouth and recommend what needs to be done.
Inflammation and ulceration can often be eased by the regular use of a mouthwash, two or three times a day. Mouthwashes containing chlorhexidine can help to prevent infection. Benzydamine mouthwash can be helpful as a local anaesthetic and can ease the discomfort caused by inflammation of the mouth lining.
Using gels to form a protective coating can sometimes help to ease the pain and discomfort of mouth ulcers. The gels can either be applied directly to the sore areas in the mouth, or mixed with water and used as a mouthwash.
Mouthwashes to relieve pain
Sometimes soluble paracetamol or soluble co-codamol can be used as a mouthwash to relieve pain in the lining of the mouth. People having some treatments are advised not to swallow these medicines, but it is usually fine to use as a mouthwash. It is helpful to check with your doctor or nurse before using this type of mouthwash.
There are many pain-relieving medicines. If it is hard for you to swallow pills, you may be prescribed painkillers as a liquid.
It is important to take your painkillers as they are prescribed for you, even if this means getting up during the night to take them. This will help to keep a constant level of painkiller in your blood, which helps them work more effectively. If the painkillers are not helping the pain, and it is so severe that drinking is difficult, inform your doctor. Stronger painkillers, such as morphine or codeine, can make you constipated and therefore you will usually be prescribed a laxative to take while you are taking them. Everyone is different and you may have to adjust the amount of laxatives you take to manage your constipation.
If you have oral thrush (white patches in your mouth) this can be treated with anti-fungal drugs. There are different types of anti-fungal drugs.
Oral thrush is usually treated with a liquid dropped into the mouth (nystatin) or tablets such as fluconazole. Your doctor can prescribe these medicines.
Some hospitals prescribe mucilages to help to ease soreness. Mucilages are unmedicated jelly-like substances (lubricants).