Symptom Management, Palliative Care, or Supportive Care to relieve side-effects is an important part of cancer care and treatment and should always form part of the overall treatment plan.
Xerostomia, more commonly called “dry mouth” occurs when the glands in the mouth and digestive system that secrete saliva for digestion do not make enough saliva, or spit, to keep the mouth moist. Saliva is needed for chewing, swallowing, tasting, and talking, so a dry mouth will make doing these activities more difficult.
Dry mouth often causes dental problems because saliva helps maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the mouth; without enough saliva, the bacteria and other organisms in the mouth grow too quickly. This can cause sores and mouth infections, including an infection called thrush that is caused by an overgrowth of yeast.
Saliva also washes away acids and food particles left in the mouth after eating, which means that a lack of saliva can cause gum disease and cavities (tooth decay).
Xerostomia can occur as a result of various things, including many of the treatments for cancer, including Chemotherapy and radiation treatments, which can cause dry mouth by damaging the salivary glands.
Chemotherapy causes dry mouth by making the saliva thicker, and Radiation Therapy to the head, face, or neck may also cause dry mouth. Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) may also cause dry mouth and mouth sores. Antidepressants, medications called diuretics that increase urination, and some painkillers can also cause dry mouth.
It is important that you take your child to see a dentist before they start any radiation treatment or chemotherapy to check the health of their mouth and teeth. It’s important to schedule this as soon as you can because if they need to have teeth removed, it should be done at least 3-4 weeks before treatment begins so their mouth has time to heal.
Read more about the Effects, Signs and Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment and more regarding Dry Mouth on our static page, Dry Mouth (Xerostomia) in Childhood Cancer