Eating Tips For Oral Discomfort

Some diet tips to try if your loved one experiences mouth sores, tender gums, or other oral problems resulting from cancer treatment.

Sore Mouth Or Throat

Mouth sores, tender gums, and a sore throat or esophagus often result from radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or infection. If you have a sore mouth or gums, see your doctor to be sure the soreness is a treatment side effect and not an unrelated dental problem. The doctor may be able to give you medicine that will control mouth and throat pain. Your dentist also can give you tips for the care of your mouth. Certain foods will irritate an already tender mouth and make chewing and swallowing difficult. By carefully choosing the foods you eat and by taking good care of your mouth, teeth, and gums, you can usually make eating easier. Here are some suggestions that may help:

Try soft foods that are easy to chew and swallow, such as:

  • Milkshakes
  • Bananas, applesauce, and other soft fruits
  • Peach, pear, and apricot nectars
  • Watermelon
  • Cottage cheese, yogurt
  • Mashed potatoes, noodles
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Custards, puddings, and gelatin
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Oatmeal or other cooked cereals
  • Pureed or mashed vegetables, such as peas and carrots
  • Pureed meats

Avoid foods or liquids that can irritate your mouth. These include:

  • Oranges, grapefruits, lemons, or other citrus fruit or juice
  • Tomato sauces or juice
  • Spicy or salty foods
  • Raw vegetables, granola, toast, crackers, or other rough, coarse, or dry foods
  • Commercial mouthwashes that contain alcohol

Other eating suggestions:

  • Cook foods until they are soft and tender.
  • Cut foods into small pieces.
  • Use a blender or food processor to puree your food.
  • Mix food with butter, margarine, thin gravy, or sauce to make it easier to swallow.
  • Use a straw to drink liquids.
  • Use a smaller-than-usual spoon, such as a baby spoon.
  • Try foods cold or at room temperature. Hot foods can irritate a tender mouth and throat.
  • Try drinking warm bouillon or salty broth; it can soothe throat pain.
  • Try sucking on ice chips.
  • If swallowing is hard, tilting your head back or moving it forward may help.
  • If your teeth and gums are sore, your dentist may be able to recommend a special product for cleaning your teeth.
  • Rinse your mouth often with water to remove food and bacteria and to promote healing.
  • Ask your doctor about anesthetic lozenges and sprays that can numb your mouth and throat long enough for you to eat meals.

Dry Mouth

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy in the head or neck area can reduce the flow of saliva and cause dry mouth. When this happens, foods are harder to chew and swallow. Dry mouth also can change the way foods taste. Some of the ideas for sore mouth and throat may help. The suggestions below also may help you deal with dry mouth.

  • Have a sip of water every few minutes to help you swallow and talk more easily.
  • onsider carrying a water bottle with you so you always have some handy.
  • Try very sweet or tart foods and beverages, such as lemonade; these foods may help your mouth make more saliva. (Do not try this if you also have a tender mouth or sore throat and the sweet or tart foods make it worse.)
  • Suck on hard candy or popsicles or chew gum. These can help make more saliva.
  • Eat soft and pureed foods, which may be easier to swallow.
  • Keep your lips moist with lip salves.
  • Moisten food with sauces, gravies, and salad dressings to make it easier to swallow.
  • If your dry mouth problem is severe, ask your doctor or dentist about products that coat, protect, and moisten your mouth and throat. These are sometimes called “artificial saliva.”

Dental And Gum Problems

Cancer and cancer treatment can cause tooth decay and other problems for your teeth and gums. For example, radiation to the mouth can affect your salivary glands, making your mouth dry and increasing your risk of cavities. Changes in eating habits also may add to the problem. Your doctor and dentist should work closely together to fix any problems with your teeth before you start treatment. If you eat often or eat a lot of sweets, you may need to brush your teeth more often. Brushing after each meal or snack is a good idea. Here are some other ideas for preventing dental problems:

  • Be sure to let your doctor know about any dental problems you are having.
  • Be sure to see your dentist regularly. Patients who are receiving treatment that affects the mouth—for example, radiation to the head and neck—may need to see the dentist more often than usual.
  • Use a soft toothbrush. Ask your doctor, nurse, or dentist to suggest a special kind of toothbrush and/or toothpaste if your gums are very sensitive.
  • Rinse your mouth with warm water when your gums and mouth are sore.
  • If you are eating foods high in sugar or foods that stick to your teeth, be sure to brush or rinse your mouth afterward so that the sugar won’t damage your teeth, or use sugar-free varieties. (Sorbitol, a sugar substitute that is contained in many sugar-free foods, can cause diarrhea in many people. If diarrhea is a problem for you, check the labels of sugar-free foods before you buy them and limit your use of them.)

Changed Sense Of Taste Or Smell

Your sense of taste or smell may change during your illness or treatment. Foods, especially meat or other high-protein foods, can begin to have a bitter or metallic taste. Many foods will have less taste. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or the cancer itself may cause these problems. Dental problems also can change the way foods taste. For most people, changes in taste and smell go away when their treatment is finished.

There is no foolproof way to prevent changes to your sense of taste or smell because each person is affected differently by illness and treatments. However, the tips below should help if you have this problem. (If you also have a sore mouth, sore gums, or a sore throat, talk to your doctor, nurse, or registered dietitian. They can suggest ways to help you without hurting the sore areas.)

  • Choose and prepare foods that look and smell good to you.
  • If red meat, such as beef, tastes or smells strange, try chicken, turkey, eggs, dairy products, or mild-tasting fish instead.
  • Help the flavor of meat, chicken, or fish by marinating it in sweet fruit juices, sweet wine, Italian dressing, or sweet-and-sour sauce.
  • Try using small amounts of flavorful seasonings, such as basil, oregano, or rosemary.
  • Try tart foods, such as oranges or lemonade, which may have more taste. A tart lemon custard might taste good and will also provide needed protein and calories. (If you have a sore mouth or throat, tart or citrus foods might cause pain or discomfort.)
  • If smells bother you, try serving foods at room temperature, turning on a kitchen fan, covering foods when cooking, and cooking outdoors in good weather.
  • Try using bacon, ham, or onion to add flavor to vegetables.
  • Visit your dentist to rule out dental problems that may affect the taste or smell of food.
  • Ask your dentist or doctor about special mouthwashes and good mouth care.

© Copyright FamilyCare America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Reprinted from Eating Hints For Cancer Patients Before, During, and After Treatment, NIH Publication #98-2079, developedby the United States National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute.



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