Using Magic Mouthwash to Treat Chemotherapy Mouth Sores

woman taking liquid medication
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If you develop mouth sores because of radiation or chemotherapy, your doctor may prescribe a special rinse popularly referred to as "magic mouthwash." The product's self-proclaimed "magic" is its ability to provide almost immediate pain relief while preventing or treating the sores themselves. 

The rinse is offered commercially under different brand names including Mary's Magic Mouthwash, Duke's Mouthwash, and Miracle Mouthwash. Other rinses are created in the pharmacy using ingredients prescribed by your oncologist.

Magic mouthwashes are important in treating the symptoms and causes of oral mucositis. This often painful inflammation of mucous membranes can make chewing and swallowing unbearable for some, resulting in malnutrition and weight loss. In some cases, even speaking can become difficult.

The "Magic" in Magic Mouthwash

The ingredients in magic mouthwash can vary by brand, with some containing numbing agents, oral steroids, and oral antibiotics.

Others are produced in the pharmacy using a combination of over-the-counter and prescription drugs. Formulations are based on your specific symptoms and can include everything from pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs to antifungals and corticosteroids. Antacids (like Maalox) are also often included as a coating agent.

To increase palatability, your pharmacist might also add flavoring, especially for pediatric formulations.

Side Effects of Magic Mouthwash

If the mouthwash formulation you've been prescribed contains an anesthetic like lidocaine, you will likely experience numbing of the tongue, throat, and inside of your cheeks. While this can definitely relieve any pain you may have, it also makes it easier for you to choke on food and to bite your cheek due to the temporary loss of feeling.

Some people might also experience an uncomfortable burning or tingling sensation. This side effect is most often temporary, lasting little more than a few minutes. As you are advised not to drink or eat for 30 minutes following use, you need to be patient and avoid rinsing your mouth even if the sensation is unpleasant. This is especially true for young children.

To avoid this, you can try swishing a small amount of the rinse to numb your mouth. Once it has, you can then swish the remaining amount and spit. If the sensation is more than you can bear, speak with your doctor about changing or adjusting the formulation.

How to Use Magic Mouthwash

Magic mouthwash is dispensed in a liquid form. You use it just like a regular mouthwash by swishing it around in your mouth and spitting it out.

If you have sores or discomfort in your throat or the back of the mouth, you may need to gargle with the mouthwash to reach the affected areas. Most formulas require you to keep the rinse in your mouth for at least a minute or two and to repeat every four to six hours.

Depending on your symptoms, you may be advised to swallow the mouthwash. In some cases, this can cause nausea, constipation, or drowsiness.

Insurance Coverage of Magic Mouthwash

Since magic mouthwash is not a drug per se but a combination of different medications, insurance coverage can vary based on your policy or pharmacy plan. It is likely that at least some of the drugs will be covered under your insurance company's drug formulary.

If certain ones are not, you can ask your doctor to check if there are any acceptable substitutes that fall within your prescribed benefits.

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Article Sources
  • National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health (NIH). “Chemotherapy and Your Mouth: Cancer Treatment and Oral Health.” Bethesda, Maryland; August 2013; NIH Publication No. 13-4361.