Mouth problems

Mouth problems

Mouth problems include any damage or pain affecting the lips or mouth. This includes ulcers, swelling, infection, bleeding or changes to saliva. These can be caused by certain cancers, some cancer treatments or other health problems.

It is important to take care of your mouth when you are having treatment to reduce the risk of problems. Mouth problems can make eating and drinking difficult, which can sometimes stop you getting enough food for energy.

If you have a temperature of 38 degrees or higher, are unable to eat or drink, have uncontrolled pain, difficulty opening your mouth or if you are coughing when trying to eat or drink you need medical attention.

Use the contact numbers you have been given. If you can’t get hold of anyone, go to your nearest hospital emergency department for assessment.

Be prepared

Know what to expect

Ask your doctor or nurse whether you are likely to get mouth problems and how to manage them.

Mouth problems can include:

  • dry mouth (xerostomia)
  • pain, sores or ulcers (mucositis)
  • white patches in the mouth
  • difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • difficulty talking
  • saliva that is thick and stringy
  • bleeding
  • infection.

Ask if you need a dental check up

If you are likely to have mouth problems, you should see your dentist for a check up before starting treatment. Ask your doctor or nurse whether you need to do this. When you see the dentist, tell them you will be having cancer treatment.

Know how to care for your mouth

It is important to take care of your mouth when you are having treatment. Your doctor or nurse will talk to you about this.

Start a symptom diary

Keeping track of your symptoms can help you and your cancer care team to manage them better.

Talk to your doctor or nurse to see if there is a diary they recommend, or use the example provided on this page.

Know who to contact if you have a problem

Ask your doctor or nurse:

  • when you should call for help or advice
  • who you should contact
  • how to contact them (including at night or weekends).

Keep this information where you can easily find it.

Checklists

Use our checklists to find helpful tips or questions to ask.

Managing symptoms

Managing mouth problems

Follow the mouth care instructions you have been given. If you get any problems, tell your doctor or nurse and ask them how to manage these.

Mouth problems can make it difficult to eat and drink. You may have to change what you eat, or take pain medication before you eat. Ask what pain medication to use.

If you are having problems eating enough, you can ask to see a dietitian or speech pathologist for help.

Severe mouth problems

If you are unable to eat or drink, have uncontrolled pain, difficulty opening your mouth or if you are coughing when trying to eat or drink you need medical attention.

Use the contact numbers you have been given by your cancer care team. If you can’t get hold of anyone, go to your nearest hospital emergency department for assessment.

Treatment changes

Occasionally, if you have severe symptoms, your doctor may discuss delaying or changing your treatment. See our Treatment changes page for more information.

Checklists

Use our checklists to find helpful tips or questions to ask.

Where to get help

There are people you can talk to for more information or support.

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