Mouth and Throat Care After Surgery

It's typical to experience a sore throat, bad breath, and dry mouth after surgery. You may also have a hoarse voice.

There are many simple ways to ease your discomfort so you can focus on resting and healing.

Postoperative mouth and throat care.
Verywell / Gary Ferster

This article explores common mouth and throat problems that may occur after surgery. It will also cover treatment options and when to reach out to your healthcare provider.

What Causes Mouth and Throat Issues After Surgery?

Mouth and throat irritation may result from surgeries that involve the mouth, nose, and throat. Any surgery that requires intubation, which is when a tube is placed in the mouth and down the airway can also lead to mouth and throat discomfort. Examples of surgeries that may require intubation include emergency, cosmetic, heart, or lung.

There are several reasons why mouth and throat issues may happen. Under general anesthesia, an individual may be intubated. While the breathing tube remains in place, the mouth is partially open. This can cause dry mouth, chapped lips, and bad breath.

Because the tube extends into the throat it can also cause a sore throat and throat irritation. Even the tape used to keep the tube in place can cause your lips to become chapped.

Muscle relaxants, which prevent movement, may be used during general anesthesia and can cause dry mouth. Anti-nausea drugs may also be given during general anesthesia to help prevent postoperative nausea and vomiting. However, these medications are associated with dry mouth and a sore throat.

How Do You Treat Mouth and Throat Issues?

In general, good mouth care is a crucial first step in reducing uncomfortable symptoms.

  • If you are on a ventilator, a machine that helps with breathing, mouth care may be done every two hours by the medical staff. This can help reduce ventilator acquired pneumonia, which is a potentially deadly infection. 
  • If you're not on a ventilator, brush your teeth and tongue twice a day to help with dry mouth and lips, as well as bad breath.

Dry Mouth and Lips

Staying hydrated and using a humidifier, a device that adds moisture to the air, can help with dry mouth post-surgery.

You may also want to avoid alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine as they can make your mouth even dryer.

If your lips are very dry or scaly feeling, gently scrub them with a moist washcloth. This will remove any dead skin.

Next, apply a generous amount of lip balm or petroleum jelly to help soften lips. Frequent reapplication, along with drinking lots of fluids, will help your lips feel better.

Sore Throat

To help with a sore throat:

  • Use cough drops with benzocaine or menthol in them to help numb the throat and reduce pain.
  • Gargle with saltwater to help relieve soreness or irritation.
  • Use throat spray, such as Chloraseptic, to coat the throat and minimize irritation.

Keep in mind that a sore throat is a very common issue after surgery and usually passes within a few days. If it doesn't improve, reach out to your healthcare provider. They can rule out if you have an infection, such as strep throat.

Bad Breath

Saliva helps minimize bacteria in your mouth. When your mouth is dry for a long time, like during surgery, bacteria can multiply rapidly and cause bad breath.

Some drugs used after surgery, like pain medications, also contribute to bad breath, as they dry out the mouth.

To help with bad breath:

  • Brush your teeth thoroughly.
  • Gargle with mouthwash to reduce bacteria in your mouth and throat.
  • Rinse your mouth frequently with water.

Losing Your Voice

Any hoarseness that you experience should show significant improvement in the first few days after surgery. Contact your doctor if your hoarseness:

  • Doesn't get better
  • Worsens over the days following surgery
  • Turns into the complete loss of your voice

Intubation can lead to vocal cord injuries, which may impact your voice. Be sure to contact your doctor if your symptoms are getting worse.

Summary

It is common to have a dry mouth, a sore throat, bad breath, and a hoarse voice after surgery. These symptoms may be caused by the breathing tube, surgical tape, and/or certain medications.

Depending on what you are experiencing, there are several ways to find relief. Be sure to keep an eye on your symptoms and contact your healthcare provider if they get worse.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is good for a sore throat after surgery?

    Gargling with saltwater, using cough drops, as well as a throat spray may help with a sore throat after surgery.

  • How long does it take your throat to heal after intubation?

    After intubation, it can take a few hours to days for your throat to heal. In some severe cases, it can take several weeks.

  • What are some remedies for a dry mouth after surgery?

    Staying hydrated, using a humidifier, and practicing good oral hygiene can help with dry mouth after surgery.

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