Mouth Rinse Recipes to Use During Chemotherapy

Recipes to sooth mouth sores during cancer treatment

Chemotherapy can cause painful mouth sores, which are called chemotherapy-related mucositis. They're rarely life-threatening but can be painful and have a big impact on your quality of life, affecting your ability to eat, swallow, and talk. To help ease the symptoms, you have several mouth rinses to choose from. These include prescription, over-the-counter, and even homemade mouth rinses.

woman using mouth wash from glass
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Along with easing your pain, mouth rinses can correct the balance of healthy bacteria in your mouth, as an imbalance can increase your risk of infection.

Our make-at-home recipes for mouth rinses are easy to make using ingredients most people have in their kitchen or medicine cabinet. As far as which recipe works best, that depends. Every person is different, and you may want to try more than one of these rinses to see what works best for you.

Mouth Sores and Chemotherapy

Mouth sores are common during chemotherapy because chemotherapy drugs target rapidly dividing cells such as those in the mouth, leading to damage similar to what happens in hair follicles.

A dry mouth, which can result from chemotherapy or dehydration, the problem is compounded. When you have too little saliva, your gums may develop sores, or even infections. Your mouth can collect germs, but your saliva, when it has a healthy balance of enzymes, can defend you against unfriendly bacteria and viruses. In order to keep your natural oral bacteria balanced, you may need to rinse your mouth several times a day. 

You can also adopt habits that reduce discomfort or even reduce your risk of developing painful mouth sores in the first place. When you are having your infusions, your chemotherapy nurse may have you suck on ice chips or an ice pop to reduce your chance of developing mouth sores. Just as some people wear ice caps to limit hair loss, these simple measures can significantly reduce the chance you will develop open mouth sores.

If you develop mouth sores, talk to your oncologist. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, they may recommend you make your own rinses, purchase a product such as Magic Mouthwash or Triple Rinse, or give you a prescription rinse.

Making Your Own Mouth Rinses

Below are several mouth rinses that you can make and use at home. Some rinses work better for some people than others, so you may need to try a few to see what works best for you.

To use them, swish the liquid around in your mouth and then spit it out rather than swallow. (There is no significant danger in swallowing the rinses containing salt, baking soda, and water, unless you have a reason you need to restrict salt in your diet.)

Soda and Salt Mouth Rinse

1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup of warm water

Mix well until salt dissolves. Rinse your mouth gently, being careful not to swallow the mixture. Follow this with a plain water rinse to clean out any remaining salt or soda.

Soda Mouth Rinse: A Good Rinse for Before You Eat

1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup of warm water

Mix well to dissolve the baking soda. This is a good rinse to use before and after a meal because it may soothe any mucositis pain you have, making it easier for you to eat well. Swish and spit, but don't swallow this mixture.

Saltwater Mouth Rinse

1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup of warm water

Mix well to dissolve the salt. This saltwater rinse is close to the natural chemistry of your own saliva. This may make mouth sores feel better. Rinse well with plain water to remove excess salt.

Salt and Soda Rinse for Gummy Mouth

Some chemotherapy drugs can increase the acidity in your mouth, leading to thick saliva that can be very annoying. This rinse works well for "gummy mouth."

1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons baking soda
4 cups of warm water

This rinse will help to neutralize the acid in your mouth and will help dissolve or loosen thick, gummy saliva. Don't drink it, just rinse and spit it out.

Peroxide Rinse for Crusted Sores

If your mouth sores are crusting over, it's important to allow the natural healing process in your body to continue, so a peroxide rinse should be used for no more than two days consecutively.

1 cup hydrogen peroxide
1 cup water or
1 cup salt water (1 teaspoon of salt in 4 cups of water)

If you have crusty mouth sores, try using this rinse three or four times a day for two days. Don't use it for more than two days at a time, because it could prevent mucositis from healing. Use a non-peroxide rinse for two days, before returning to this mixture.

Coping with Mouth Pain and Sores

In addition to avoiding foods that can be painful, and using mouth rinses, there are several things you should be aware of when it comes to mouth care during chemotherapy.

Dental Care

If you're going to have chemotherapy, be sure to have a dental exam and cleaning two weeks before your first infusion. During treatment, check with your dentist if problems come up. Gum disease leads to a chronic inflammatory state that's actually been linked to the development of some cancers such as pancreatic cancer.

While it's easy to put dental care on the back burner during chemotherapy, it's important to be pro-active with your dental health. At the same time, your oncologist may recommend that you only use a soft toothbrush and avoid flossing while on chemotherapy.

Thrush

When mouth sores occur, secondary fungal infections can sometimes occur. This will usually show up as a white coating over the mucous membranes in your mouth. If you develop thrush, your oncologist will want to treat you with an antifungal medication.

Stay Hydrated

Try to drink at least 64 ounces of fluids each day. Don't drink fluids that will dry you out-–so avoid alcohol and caffeine. Try to avoid alcohol as it can both lead to dehydration, and increase pain with mouth sores.

Choose Foods That are "Good" to Mouth Sores

Some foods such as grapefruit juice and orange juice can cause significant pain if your have mouth sores. Foods that are salty, sharp (such as crackers), and spicy can similarly lead to discomfort.

Instead, try to choose foods that are smooth (for example, mashed potatoes), can be sipped (for example, a milkshake), and are not too hot or too cold.

Dry Mouth

If you're having chronic problems with dry mouth, ask your doctor about using artificial saliva, such as Caphosol solution, or pain-relief medications. Keeping your mouth healthy will reduce your risk of oral side effects during treatment. That means you will be able to eat well, stay strong, and recover from treatment more quickly.

When to Call Your Doctor

Mouth sores can sometimes become infected, and when your white blood cell count is low due to chemotherapy, this can be serious. Make sure to call your doctor right away if you:

  • Develop a fever
  • Believe you may be dehydrated
  • Develop any yellow or foul drainage from your mouth
  • Have problems eating or drinking due to mouth sores

A Word From Verywell

Mouth sores can easily be dismissed as minor in comparison to other symptoms of chemotherapy. That said, they can lower your quality of life, and feeling as good as possible is important while going through cancer treatment.

Of course, it's important talk to your oncologist before trying out these recipes. That said, using a preventive mouth wash is something that seldom comes up during these visits as mouth sores are considered more of a nuisance than a threat. Don't be afraid to "bother" your oncologist. Talking about using a mouthwash you prepare yourself preventively will help her understand that you wish to take an active role in your care.

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  1. Zhu G, Wang Q, Lu S, Niu Y. Hydrogen Peroxide: A Potential Wound Therapeutic Target? Med Princ Pract. 2017;26(4):301–308. doi:10.1159/000475501

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