- Caring for the Patient With Cancer at Home: A Guide for Patients and Families
- Anxiety and fear
- Appetite, poor
- Blood counts
- Blood in stool
- Blood in urine
- Fluids and dehydration
- Grooming and appearance
- Hair loss
- Leg cramps
- Mouth, bleeding in
- Mouth dryness
- Mouth sores
- Nausea and vomiting
- Scars and wounds
- Shortness of breath
- Skin color changes
- Skin dryness
- Skin (pressure) sores
- Sleep problems
- Steroids and hormones
- Stomas (or ostomies)
- Swallowing problems
- Treatment at home
- Tubes and IV lines
- Weight changes
- When death is approaching
- To learn more
Dry mouth happens when there is not enough saliva in the mouth. It can be caused by breathing through the mouth, or it may be a side effect of medicine, radiation treatment to the head and neck, or dehydration. (See the section called "Fluids and dehydration.")
What to look for
- Dried, flaky, whitish saliva in and around the mouth
- Thick saliva that’s more like mucus and that sticks to lips when you open your mouth
- Trouble swallowing foods or thick liquids
- Mouth always open to breathe
- Burning tongue
- Debris stuck to teeth, tongue, and gums
- Tongue surface looks ridged or cracked
What the patient can do
- Rinse your mouth every 2 hours with a salt and soda solution. You can make this solution by adding 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking soda to 1 quart of warm water. Shake the solution before each use, then swish it in the mouth and spit. Do not swallow it.
- Drink liquids with meals to moisten foods and help with swallowing.
- Try ice chips, sugarless hard candies, and sugarless chewing gum.
- Add liquids (such as gravy, sauce, milk, and yogurt) to solid foods.
- Use petroleum jelly, cocoa butter, or a mild lip balm to keep lips moist.
- Use artificial saliva, which is sold at drugstores.
- Avoid hot, spicy, or acidic foods.
- Avoid chewy candies, tough meats, and hard raw fruits or vegetables.
- Avoid alcohol, including store-bought mouthwashes.
- Avoid tobacco.
What caregivers can do
- Offer small, soft meals with extra sauce or dressings for dipping.
- Offer ice cream, gelatin desserts, ice chips, and frozen drinks.
- Help the patient keep track of their fluid intake, and encourage the patient to take in 2 or 3 quarts of liquid each day, if the doctor approves. Ice, ice cream, sherbet, Popsicles, and gelatin count as liquids.
Call the doctor if the patient:
- Has a dry mouth for more than 3 days
- Is unable to take medicines or swallow pills
- Is unable to drink or eat
- Has dry, cracked lips or mouth sores (See the section called "Mouth sores.")
- Has trouble breathing
Last Medical Review: 03/24/2011
Last Revised: 08/11/2011