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Oral Mucositis

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 2, 2022.

What is oral mucositis?

Oral mucositis is inflammation in and around your mouth.

What increases my risk for oral mucositis?

  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy to treat cancer
  • AIDS, diabetes, kidney disease, or other long-term illnesses
  • A history of poor nutrition or a diet low in vitamins
  • Tobacco or alcohol use
  • Poor dental care, or dentures that do not fit well
  • An infection caused by a virus, fungus, or bacteria
  • An allergic reaction to a food or drug
  • An injury in your mouth

What are the signs and symptoms of oral mucositis?

  • Pain, redness, or swelling
  • Open sores or bleeding
  • Burning or itching
  • A dry mouth
  • White patches

How is oral mucositis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and look at your lips, tongue, gums, and mouth. You may need blood tests to find out if an infection or other illness has caused oral mucositis.

How is oral mucositis treated?

Treatment is based on the cause of your symptoms. You may be given medicine to relieve pain and inflammation, or to treat an infection. Medicine may be given as a pill, an ointment, or a mouthwash.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How can I manage my symptoms?

Oral mucositis usually gets better within 2 to 6 weeks. You can do the following to make your mouth feel better:

  • Do not smoke. Smoking can make mouth sores worse. If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you need help quitting.
  • Eat soft, blended, moist foods. Puddings, milkshakes, broths, soups, and cooked cereals are less likely to bother your mouth. Eat food that is lukewarm or cool.
  • Do not eat anything that could burn, sting, or scratch your mouth. Examples are oranges, pineapples, hot peppers, potato chips, toast, and alcohol.
  • Take small bites, chew slowly, and sip water while you eat. Rinse your mouth with water after meals.
  • Rinse with a baking soda or salt solution to remove bacteria and food, and to prevent or treat mouth pain and sores.
    • Mix ½ teaspoon baking soda or salt with 8 ounces of warm water.
    • Rinse your mouth at least 4 to 6 times a day with this solution. You may rinse with plain water instead if it feels better to you.
    • Do not use store-bought mouthwash. It contains alcohol and other chemicals that can irritate your mouth.

How can oral mucositis be prevented?

  • Gently brush your teeth, gums, and tongue after every meal and before bed. Use a soft toothbrush and plain fluoride toothpaste. Let your toothbrush air dry after each use to prevent bacteria growth. Replace your toothbrush often. Ask if it is safe to floss your teeth.
  • If you wear dentures, make sure they fit well. Ask your dentist if your dentures can be refitted or if you need new dentures. Be extra careful when you put in or remove dentures. Try to prevent any injuries to your gums that could lead to sores or infection. Wear your dentures during the day only. Soak them in denture solution at night. Ask how to safely clean your gums.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Examples are fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Heathy foods give your body the vitamins and minerals it needs, and may prevent mucositis.
  • Avoid any food or drug that triggers mucositis. Some fruit, nuts, shellfish, cinnamon, chewing gum, and toothpaste may trigger mucositis or other symptoms of an allergic reaction.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever or chills.
  • Your symptoms do not get better within 2 weeks.
  • Your symptoms get worse, even after treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • Your heart is beating fast.
  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You cannot eat or drink.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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