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It is important to take good care of your child’s mouth and watch for problems that might develop. Mouth problems, such as painful sores, dry mouth, cracked lips, and tooth problems are common in children with cancer and other illnesses. Keeping the mouth clean helps reduce bacteria that lead to tooth decay. Bacteria in the mouth can also travel through the bloodstream and cause infection.
A mouth care routine helps your child’s oral health, now and in the future. Mouth care can include:
Be sure to practice mouth care even if your child has a feeding tube or does not eat by mouth. Your care team may give special mouth care instructions if your child has mouth sores, is getting certain treatments, has low blood counts, or has had a bone marrow (stem cell) transplant.
Use a soft toothbrush to brush teeth and tongue at least 2 times per day. Always brush after having sweets or sugary foods or drinks.
Mouth rinses can help clean the mouth and treat problems like dry mouth or mouth sores. Use mouthwashes or mouth rinses prescribed by your care team.
Rinse your child’s mouth with 5 to 10 milliliters (mL) of a mouth rinse at least 3 times each day. Mouth rinses include Biotene®, alkaline saline, and Cepacol®.
Floss daily unless the care team tells you not to. Unless your child has mouth sores or low blood counts, flossing is usually recommended. Check with your care team if you aren’t sure.
The skin on the lips is thin and delicate. It is easy for your child’s lips to become dry, chapped, or cracked.
Put a lip balm, ointment, or cream with lanolin on your child’s lips at least twice a day. Also, apply lip balm as needed when lips are dry. Choose a lip balm or ointment that is fragrance free and safe for sensitive skin.
Do not let your child pick at peeling skin. This can create sores or lead to infection. Licking the lips can also make chapped lips worse.
Dry mouth occurs when there is too little saliva or saliva is too thick. This can happen if your child is dehydrated. It can also be a side effect of chemotherapy, medicines, or radiation therapy. Patients who have a tube to help them breathe (intubation) or who have a feeding tube are also at higher risk for dry mouth.
Dry mouth can cause problems such as sore throat, trouble speaking or swallowing, hoarseness, and bad breath, Saliva helps protect teeth by washing away food, bacteria, and acids. Over time, dry mouth can lead to tooth decay.
Ways your child can help prevent or manage dry mouth include:
Your child’s mouth care routine should include checking for sores on the lips, gums, tongue, cheeks, under the tongue, and the roof of the mouth. Mouth sores are caused by many health conditions and are a common side effect of chemotherapy. Mouth sores can be painful, increase risk of infection, and make it hard to swallow, eat, and drink.
If your child gets mouth sores, a nurse may give your child a mouthwash, gel, or spray to make the sores hurt less. Your child might also take medicine to help the pain or stop an infection.
Read more about mouth sores and cancer treatment.
Good oral health starts with daily mouth care.
Here are some other things you can do for a healthier mouth and teeth:
Find more information at the ADA's Mouth Healthy website.
Reviewed: February 2024