You may have had them before. They’re called “mouth ulcers” or “canker sores.” Some people are prone to getting them, even without cancer treatment. If you’re going through chemotherapy or radiation, however, your odds go up. According to the MayoClinic, “Damage to the cells in your mouth makes it difficult for your mouth to heal itself and to fend off bacteria, leading to sores and infections.”
People most likely to get mouth sores are those receiving chemotherapy and head or neck radiation. Some of the culprit drugs include Cytarabine, Doxorubicin (Adriamycin), Etoposide (Etopophos, VePesid), Fluorouracil (Adrucil), Methotrexate, and Capecitabine (Xeloda). Severity can vary, from a small burning pain to a more relentless discomfort that can make it difficult to eat, drink or swallow.
Swishing ice chips in your mouth while receiving chemotherapy may protect it from the drugs. (Cold temps slow blood flow, making it more difficult for the blood to carry drugs to cold areas.) It may be wise to get a dental checkup before starting treatment, to make sure your mouth is as healthy as possible to start with.
Drink plenty of water, eat a balanced diet, and get into a steady, thorough mouth-care routine (if you don’t have one already). Scott Hamilton’s Chemocare.com suggests avoiding alcohol-based mouth rinses. Instead, choose those with natural ingredients, like Miessence Certified Organic Mouthwash or Ecodent Daily Care Mouth Rinse. You may also try hydrogen peroxide mixed with water, salt water, or baking soda and water (1/2 to 1 teaspoon in 8 ounces). Rinsing before a meal may soothe your mouth enough to make it easier to eat.
If you do form mouth sores, tell your doctor. There are prescription treatments available. Holistic-Online.comoffers some home remedies, including a calendula or golden-seal tea mixture. Patients at Cancer Compass experienced good results with a chamomile-tea oral rinse they made and used during treatment. Research has discovered that 75% of the people using a chamomile rinse did not develop ulcerations. Chamomile has both anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties, which may account for its effectiveness. Undergoing radiation often develops dryness in the mouth and elevated acidity which can lead to tooth decay. The chamomile rinse will also help with with this or you can try Biotene products or natural sulfate-free dry mouth toothpaste from Tom’s of Maine.
In the meantime, avoid acidic and spicy foods, caffeine, alcohol, and sugar. (Sugar coats the inside of the mouth and makes it easier for bacteria to grow.) Instead, try comfort foods like yogurt, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, applesauce, Jell-o, baby foods, and foods with bland sauces and gravies.
If a toothbrush hurts, ask your dentist for foam swabs, which are more comfortable. Stay away from hot and cold foods, and consider talking to your doctor about vitamin supplements. Holistic advisor Dr. Weil reports that doctors in Israel found that taking 1,000 micrograms of vitamin B12 by mouth at bedtime significantly reduced the pain canker sores cause and the length of time they last.
If your sores start to bleed, become infected, cause you difficulty swallowing, or are so painful you start losing weight, you may need to stop treatment until you recover. Ask your doctor for his/her advice.
If you’ve got a great natural remedy for mouth sores, please tell us about it.