Mucositis is an inflammation of the tissues that line the inside of the mouth. This painful condition affects up to 40 percent of chemotherapy patients, explains the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), and it's one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy. Fortunately, there are many options for mucositis treatment.
Why Mucositis Occurs
Chemotherapy drugs attack cancer cells, but they can also attack healthy cells in the body that divide quickly, explains the National Institutes of Health. The cells that make up the lining of the mouth fall into this category, so they can be inadvertently targeted by chemotherapy treatments. When these cells are targeted, the tissue becomes vulnerable to ulceration or infection, says The Oral Cancer Foundation.
In some cases, mucositis can be prevented. ASCO recommends sucking on ice chips before and after each treatment session since this may protect your tissues. An oral care routine that includes salt water rinses can also prevent mucositis or decrease its severity.
Symptoms of Mucositis
Mucositis usually appears seven to 10 days after chemotherapy treatment begins, according to the National Cancer Institute. The lining of your mouth may become red, swollen or sore, and you may develop sores. Other tissues inside your mouth, like your gums or tongue, may also be affected.
These symptoms can make eating painful, and you may have trouble swallowing or talking. Your dentist can help you deal with these side effects. He or she may recommend treatments like home remedies or medications.
Home Remedies for Mucositis
Dietary changes may be helpful when you're recovering from mucositis. Spicy, salty, acidic, dry or hot foods can irritate your sore tissues, so your dentist may recommend avoiding them. Non-irritating foods include milkshakes, puddings, oatmeal and noodles. Pureeing foods can also make them easier to eat, recommends the University of Arizona Cancer Center.
Your dentist may recommend other home remedies like increasing your fluid intake, eating more protein and avoiding alcohol. If your mouthwash contains alcohol, replace it with a gentle, alcohol-free mouthwash like Colgate Total Advanced Pro-Shield that freshens breath.
Medications for Mucositis Treatment
If home remedies aren't enough to ease your discomfort, your dentist may prescribe a medication to relieve your pain. You may be prescribed a mouthwash that contains lidocaine, which can help numb the inside of your mouth and keep you comfortable. Topical anesthetics in gel or spray form may also be prescribed so that you can numb sore areas of your mouth. If necessary, stronger pain medications, like morphine, may be used.
Mucositis typically goes away on its own once your chemotherapy treatment is finished. This can take two to four weeks.
Mucositis is a very common side effect of chemotherapy, but with the help of your dentist, you can manage the symptoms.