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