Mouth Care during Chemotherapy

Mouth care

One of the most sensitive areas affected by chemotherapy is the mouth. Not only does it hurt, it affects how and what you can eat and drink. Here are some time honoured remedies and ideas to reduce the impact of this annoying side effect.

Oral Thrush
Easily recognised by the large creamy white patches against inflamed oral mucous membranes, oral thrush can be a nightmare. It is caused by the yeast fungus candida albicans. Apart from chemotherapy, it can be caused by antibiotics, compromised immune system, prolonged stress with fatigue, allergies or malnourishment. As it is a fungal infection, it thrives on sugar, alcohol, yeasty foods and high fructose foods so it is best to limit your intake of these things. While your doctor will usually treat it with a topical lozenge which contains amphotericin, mystatin or miconazole, there are some other options available which you can try.

Natural remedies for Oral Thrush
Eat plenty of natural yoghurt
Take probiotics daily
Apple cider vinegar in warm water, as diluted as you need to make it bearable
Sage tea (you can find this in your local health food store) Rinse your mouth regularly to refresh, soothe and heal the mouth
Salty water (2 teaspoons in a glass of warm water, rinse and spit)
Eat garlic. If you can’t eat garlic, take garlic capsules.

Sore mouth and gums
If your mouth is just sore and ulcerated, you need soothing remedies and to keep your mouth moist. Inadequate water intake is the most common cause of a dry uncomfortable mouth and easily remedied. If nausea and vomiting is an issue, have regular teaspoon size sips of water rather than trying to down a whole glass at once. Diluted lemonade is often tolerated better than plain water when you feel sick. One part lemonade to three parts water.
An old fashioned but effective mouth wash is made from 3 drops of lavender essential oil and a teaspoon of honey mixed into warm water. Lavender is a natural antiseptic (used during the war years on soldiers with infected wounds), it is very refreshing and perfectly safe. You can let the water cool completely and rinse your mouth through-out the day as needed.
Salty water as above is remarkably soothing for a sore mouth, and if your throat is sore use it as a gargle at the same time.
To strengthen the gums break open a Vitamin E capsule and squeeze the oil onto your finger. Rub all over the gums and sore spots.

Nourishment to heal the mouth
When eating and chewing are painful, make nutritious drinks instead. You can add natural yoghurt to all kind of smoothies to help prevent oral thrush and provide probiotics. Molasses is full of vitamins, minerals and iron. You can make a tea out of 1 teaspoon in hot water, sipping when cooled. It has the added advantage of helping gums to heal and surprisingly doesn’t taste too bad either. The benefits of molasses were first discovered when race horses that were consuming the sugar by-product ‘waste’ became remarkably healthier and faster. It can be bought as a pure black substance in a jar, found in most supermarkets and health food shops.
Honey is nourishing and a natural antibiotic. Add together with natural yoghurt to all your smoothies. Adding a couple of teaspoons of flaxseed oil will add essential fatty acids while providing a nutty flavour. Use a wide straw to keep irritation at a minimum while still getting the nutrients into you.
The more colours you have on your plate or in your smoothie the better. Adding a couple of dark green leaves from spinach or kale won’t change the taste of your smoothie, but will add nutrients you need for recovery.

Protect the lips
A dry mouth usually means dry lips with uncomfortable chapping as well. Moo Goo now have a range of inexpensive lip balms made from edible ingredients. My favourite is the strawberry tinted one. Another popular lip treatment is Paw Paw ointment; and when your lips are really bad, try Am-o-Lin baby cream. In the hospital setting we use lanolin.
If you are feeling creative and want to make your own lip balm, try this recipe:
2 teaspoons of grated beeswax
4 teaspoons of almond oil
1 teaspoon of rose water or your own favourite
Little jars or pots
(These items are all generally available from many health food shops, the central market soap and honey shop or specialty honey shops have the beeswax)
Melt the beeswax in a small metal bowl over simmering water. When it has melted, add the oil stirring well and finally the rose water. Stir off the heat until it has cooled and become thicker, then pour into clean little jars or pots.

These are just a few ideas to help you deal with a sore mouth, and hopefully with regular use, the issues will remain at bay or at the very least provide periods of relief.

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