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Mouth problems and mouth care

When you’re ill, you become more likely to have mouth problems, like dryness, ulcers, infection, bleeding gums, too much saliva and altered taste. Treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy can also increase your risk of developing mouth problems.

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A sore or unclean mouth can affect your comfort and bring down your mood, but good oral hygiene can reduce your risk by stopping bacteria building up and keeping your mouth fresh.

It’s important to care for your mouth in the way that’s comfortable for you. If you have questions, talk to your health or social care professional.

If your health or social care professional has told you about specific ways to care for your mouth, you should follow their advice. This is especially important if you’ve had surgery or radiotherapy on your head or neck as these treatments can cause mouth problems.

Mouth pain or other mouth problems

Talk to your doctor or nurse if you have:

  • mouth pain
  • signs of redness
  • swelling
  • sores
  • white patches
  • bleeding
  • are unable to rinse your mouth
  • any other mouth problems.

They can check if there’s a particular cause and may be able to prescribe medication it’s needed. If swallowing pills is difficult for you, you may be prescribed liquid or water-soluble painkillers. They can also advise you on liquid food supplements if it’s too painful for you to eat solid food.

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Brushing teeth

Brush your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes, using a small headed toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.

Other tips:

  • A soft toothbrush is best if your mouth is sore.
  • An electric toothbrush can be very effective and may be less tiring to use.
  • You only need to use only a small amount of toothpaste.
  • Change your toothbrush every three months.
  • Visit your dentist regularly, if you’re able to.

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Home dental visits

If you’re not able to get to your dental practice regularly you may be able to have a home dental visit. To find out more about the community dental care in your area, visit the:

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Rinsing your mouth

You can rinse your mouth up to three or four times a day.

  • You can rinse your mouth with fresh water, a saline solution (one teaspoon of salt in a pint of water) or use a mouth wash, as recommended by your doctor, dentist or nurse.
  • For sore mouths, rinsing with salt water followed by cold water can be helpful.
  • Don’t use a sodium bicarbonate rinse, which can cause problems if you are ill. 

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Cleaning false teeth and dentures

Keep false teeth and dentures fresh and clean.

  • Clean false teeth as usual.
  • If you wear dentures or dental plates take them out and clean them at least once a day using a large toothbrush or denture brush.
  • Don’t use toothpaste on dentures, use soap and water instead or a special denture cleaner.
  • Soak dentures or plates overnight in water, or as directed, and rinse them with warm water after eating.

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Keeping your mouth moist

Help keep your teeth and mouth moist and clean by chewing sugar free gum and drinking plenty of water.

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Soothing a sore or dry mouth

If your mouth is sore or dry, these tips may help:

  • Have milky drinks rather than fruit juices.
  • Avoid alcohol and very hot drinks.
  • Take sips of water in between bites of food.
  • Relieve a dry mouth with ice cubes, frozen fruit, lemonade or tonic water.
  • Suck on an ice cube.
  • Soothe your mouth with cold foods and fluid like custard, yoghurt, ice cream, jelly, mousse or chilled soups.
  • Try softer foods like porridge, pasta with a sauce, egg dishes, fish in sauce and milky puddings.
  • Eat moist food, for example with gravy or sauces.
  • Avoid dry foods like biscuits, toast and crisps.
  • Avoid spicy foods like curries and pickles, and acidic foods like citrus fruits.
  • Avoid or minimise smoking.
  • Try using a straw or teaspoon to avoid fluids or liquids coming into contact with the sorest part of your mouth.
  • Spray your mouth with cold water, or use a pipette to drop a few drops into your mouth, to keep it moist if you don’t feel like drinking.
  • Try fresh pineapple or unsweetened tinned pineapple for cleaning the mouth and tongue.

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Dry lips

After brushing your teeth and rinsing, you might like to apply an oral gel, like Bonjela, or lip balm to moisturise your lips.

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Information for carers

If you are caring for a friend or relative, you can help reduce mouth problem like dryness, ulcers, infection, bleeding gums, too much saliva and altered taste. For more information, watch our film about helping with mouth care

External websites

NHS Choices website   – mouth ulcers

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This page is for general information only. It's not intended to replace any advice from health or social care professionals. We suggest that you consult with a qualified professional about your individual circumstances. Read more about how our information is created and how it's used.

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