Mouth problems

Ulcers, infections or a dry mouth can all make eating well a challenge

You might experience mouth problems, particularly during and after chemotherapy, radiotherapy to the head and neck, or if you have cancer of the mouth or throat. The good news is that these problems are often temporary. 

Some of the most common mouth problems are:

  • Soreness and ulcers in your mouth and throat
  • Mouth infections, such as thrush
  • Dry mouth and lack of saliva
  • Tooth problems and bleeding gums
  • Difficulty swallowing and chewing
  • Bad breath
  • Thick, sticky saliva

What can help?

Looking after your mouth, teeth and dentures

  • Try to keep your mouth as clean as possible. This should help your mouth feel more fresh and comfortable, and may improve the taste of food.
  • Remember to brush your teeth and clean your dentures regularly. If your mouth and gums are sore, it may be best to use a soft-bristled toothbrush.
  • Visit your dentist or oral hygienist regularly to make sure that there aren’t any problems with your teeth or gums.
  • Use an alcohol-free mouthwash. Your doctor may also prescribe a special mouthwash.
  • If you wear dentures, clean them regularly and try leaving them out of your mouth for as long as possible, to stop them irritating your gums.

Soothing your mouth

If you have a dry mouth, sucking on sugar-free boiled sweets or chewing sugar-free gum can help stimulate saliva and keep your mouth moist. It is important to note that excessive consumption of some sweeteners used in sugar-free sweets and gum can have a laxative effect.

If you have a sore mouth, cold foods and drinks, such as fruit juice-based ice lollies, yoghurt and frozen yoghurt, smoothies, sugar-free jellies, gazpacho and crushed ice can be very soothing.

Sipping drinks throughout the day will keep your mouth feeling fresh and help prevent you from becoming dehydrated.

Avoiding certain foods

While you have a sore mouth, try to avoid any foods or drinks that might irritate your mouth or that are hard to swallow, such as:

  • Rough, dry, crunchy or very chewy foods like hard breakfast cereals, crusty bread, nuts, raw vegetables, dry biscuits and tough meat
  • Very hot foods and drinks
  • Sharp-tasting, salty and spicy foods like pickles, vinegar, garlic, raw onion and chilli
  • Food that sticks to the roof of your mouth like pastry or peanut butter
  • Acidic foods and drinks like citrus fruits or pineapple
  • Alcohol, especially spirits and wine

If you smoke, try to give up as smoking irritates the mouth and slows down healing.

If you've lost weight, use our tips and recipes to help you get the most out of every mouthful.

Choosing softer foods

Adapt your favourite foods to make them as soft and moist as possible. This will make them easier to chew and swallow, and less likely to irritate your mouth. Try these tips:

  • Add extra sauce and gravy to your meals.
  • Slow-cook lean meat and vegetables in stews and casseroles to make them tender and soft. 
  • If you’re having a pudding, serve it with custard or yoghurt.
  • For breakfast, have porridge, yoghurt with stewed fruit or mashed banana, soft cereals such as Weetabix with lots of milk, or a smoothie.
  • For lunch, try cutting the crusts off your sandwiches or have smooth soups.

Mashing, blending or liquidising your food can make it easier to eat – for example, blending casseroles or curries to make thick soups, pureeing vegetables and fruit, and mashing potatoes.

Tell your doctor if you’re experiencing any mouth problems. They may be able to prescribe pain medication, special mouthwashes or gels.

Tell us what you think