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What Should I Eat if I Have Mouth Sores?

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Updated December 08, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: What Should I Eat if I Have Mouth Sores?
Answer: Eating the right foods when you have mouth sores can help you get the nutrition you need during cancer treatment. Good nutrition will help your mouth heal, allowing you to get back to your normal diet sooner.

Manage the Pain

A sore mouth and throat can be a problem for some people in cancer treatment. Ask your doctor or nurse about how to best manage a sore mouth. They can instruct you on proper mouth care and prescribe medications to lessen pain and aid healing.

If your sore mouth is preventing you from eating, let your doctor know. Your medical team can't help you if they don't know you're struggling.

How and What to Eat When You Have Mouth Sores

  • Mouth sores can lead to cavities and other mouth infections. Make sure you have regular dental care before, during, and after cancer treatment. If you don't have a good dentist, ask your health care team can help you get the dental care you need.
  • Rinse your mouth with warm water, or whatever solution your doctor recommends, after each meal and snack.
  • Brush your teeth according to the directions given by your doctor or nurse. Don't skip mouth care, because it is an important way to lower the risk of more serious mouth infections.
  • Eat more soft foods and foods that contain liquids. Try smoothies or shakes; warm soup (cook thoroughly, but do not serve hot); cooked cereals made with extra water or milk, such as thinned oatmeal or cream of wheat; yogurt; pudding; mashed potatoes with gravy; pasta; casseroles; and canned fruit.
  • Try the recipe for Mouth Pain Taffy, which was developed by oncology (cancer) nurses, specifically to help patients who have mouth pain during treatment.
  • Try using a straw to drink liquid, which can help "bypass" mouth sores.
  • Take small bites and chew each bite carefully, but completely, when you are eating.
  • Soften food with liquids or semi-liquid items, such as milk, soy or rice milk, juice, broth, sauces, gravy, soup, yogurt, or jelly.
  • Use a blender to mash or blend fruits or vegetables.
  • Sip warm, herbal (caffeine-free) tea, such as chamomile.
  • Add a little olive oil to finished recipes to make foods slippery and easier to swallow.
  • If cold foods are easier on your mouth, try frozen fruit, such as frozen grapes, wedges of cantaloupe, peach slices, or watermelon.
  • Suck on ice chips. Do NOT chew ice - this can damage your teeth.
  • Eat water-rich fruit such as watermelon, peaches, and nectarines, but avoid fruit that contains little seeds, such as berries.
  • If your mouth is very dry, ask ask your pharmacist about gums, saliva substitutes, mouth moisturizers and other products made especially for a dry mouth, such as Biotene, Salagen, Xero-Lube, Salivart, Mouth Kote, Moi-Stir, Orex, Salix, Optimoist, Sage Moist Plus spray, Gelclair, Oral Balance, and Sage Mouth Moisturizer.

Things That Can Worsen Mouth Pain Include:

  • Caffeinated drinks and foods, such as coffee, soda, colas, and chocolate.
  • Alcohol, including beer, wine, hard liquor, and mixed drinks.
  • Tough meats, raw vegetables, breads, pretzels, rice, chips, muffins, and cakes.
  • Commercial mouthwashes, many of which contain alcohol.
  • Tobacco, including cigarettes, pipes, and chewing tobacco.
  • Acidic foods such as tomatoes, citrus fruits and juices (orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime), and spicy or salty foods.

The most important point: If you can't eat or drink due to mouth sores, call your doctor.

Sources:

Oncology Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group. The Clinical Guide to Oncology Nutrition, Second Edition, 2006. (Elliott L, Molseed LL, McCallum PD, Grant B, Eds.). American Dietetic Association: Chicago, IL.

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