goodbye to mouth sores


Because my chemo drugs are changing next time, with slightly different side effects, I am probably saying goodbye to mouth sores while on chemo.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, mouth sores.

While very minimal in terms of their severity, mouth sores have been one of my least favorite side effects on chemo (so far). Thankfully I soon realized they had a predictable rhythm, and were only temporary. Otherwise I would not be enjoying food as much as I am while on chemo.

I first had them by day five or six after the first chemo. They start like little irritations of the skin on the inside of your cheeks, or gums, or edges of your tongue. You know, like if you’ve ever gotten canker sores from eating too many tomatoes in the summer, or too much sugary stuff at the holidays.

I looked up canker sores before I started chemo and was surprised to learn that not everybody gets them (remember I’m talking canker sores here, not chemo mouth sores). I’ve been getting canker sores since I was a kid, in fact had a bad bout of them this fall from chewing a lot of sugarless gum at work (an occasional bad habit of mine – I do it to relieve stress instead of eating. I just like chewing something when I’m stressed, and can go through dozens of pieces of gum in a day).

(The constant chewing also increases the risk of accidentally biting the inside of my cheek, which I then keep biting over and over again… Anyhow, I stopped chewing gum a week or two before my chemo so that my mouth would heal up, knowing that I’d probably get sores again.)

When the chemo mouth sores started I was really discouraged. My dad got very severe mouth sores while on chemo, so much so that they interfered with his ability to eat much. My oncologist had told me to rinse my mouth out with a baking soda solution after I ate, and I used it religiously, but still got the mouth sores. I thought that once they started, they wouldn’t go away but would only get worse, and felt really defeated.

Thankfully the written instructions I have from the cancer clinic say to contact them immediately if you get mouth sores, so I did. My oncologist immediately prescribed a mouth rinse compounded from a couple of different solutions (pharixia and sulcrate), including one usually used for ulcers, to coat the stomach. I was supposed to rinse before I ate, to protect my mouth from the food.

I used the rinse religiously, and the mouth sores cleared up completely after about a week. I rejoiced.

With subsequent chemos the mouth sores have bothered me less and less, and I’ve always made sure to have plenty of the mouth rinse on hand to treat them immediately. They always start around day four or five, and last for about a week. They’ve never been more than annoying, but I’m glad they’re over with (the ones from my most recent treatment healed a few days ago).

I found that certain foods really made them worse – things like dry crackers and potato chips, that had sharp edges or got stuck between teeth. Acidic foods. Stuff like that.

As much as rinsing with baking soda and water was recommended, I didn’t notice much difference when I didn’t. That rinse helped most when the sores were at their worst, as an after-meal rinse.

And that’s mouth sores.