Dry mouth or thick saliva

Radiation therapy to the head and neck areas, some kinds of chemo, and certain other medicines can cause your child to have a dry mouth. Some children may also have thick and sticky saliva. Dryness can be mild or severe, and a dry mouth can increase the risk of cavities or mouth infection.

If your child has either of these side effects, have her drink plenty of fluids throughout the day and get her to eat moist foods as much as possible. Also get her to brush her teeth and tongue and rinse her mouth often.

Here are some more things you can try to help your child’s mouth feel better:

  • Have her use a straw to drink liquids, and drink enough to help thin the mucus.
  • Have her take small bites and chew her food well.
  • Give her soft, moist foods that are cool or at room temperature. Try blenderized fruits and vegetables, soft-cooked chicken and fish, well-thinned cereals, popsicles, smoothies, and slushies. Avoid foods that stick to the roof of the mouth like peanut butter and soft bread.
  • Moisten foods with broth, soup, sauces, gravy, yogurt, or creams.
  • Give your child sugarless candy or sugarless gum to stimulate saliva. Lemon drops often work well.
  • Avoid commercial mouthwash and acidic drinks.
  • Limit drinks with caffeine, such as coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate.
  • Use a cool mist humidifier to moisten room air, especially at night. (Be sure to keep the humidifier clean to avoid spreading bacteria or mold in the air.)
  • Use saliva substitutes if your child’s salivary glands have been removed by surgery or damaged by radiation therapy. These products add moisture to the mouth.
  • Talk to the doctor about how well your child has been eating. Nutritional supplements, such as liquid meal replacements, may be helpful during this time. Talk to your child’s health team about this.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Revised: June 30, 2014

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