Ways to Manage Mouth Sores

Soft foods like soup and oatmeal which are served lukewarm are easy to eat and swallow.

Mouth sores. These painful little cuts or ulcers in the mouth can certainly make life miserable. In fact, eating, drinking and even speaking can become very difficult. While there currently isn’t any guaranteed way to prevent them, the good news is there are ways to reduce your child’s risk of getting them. In addition, there are ways to control and manage mouth sores if your child does in fact have them.

How Kids Get Mouth Sores

So how and why do kids get mouth sores? Chemotherapy and radiation are intended to kill rapidly growing cells, like cancer cells. But they can also attack normal cells like the ones in the inside lining of your child’s mouth. As a result, damage to these cells makes it difficult for the mouth to heal itself and to fight off germs, leading to infections and sores or ulcers in the mouth, throat, or tongue. 

What to Look For

These painful sores tend to appear 1 to 2 weeks following certain cancer treatments. With this in mind, you should look out for a few key telltale signs. In the event that you notice any symptoms, it’s important to report them to your child’s healthcare team.

  • Your child’s mouth and gums may look red, shiny or swollen.
  • He may have small ulcers or sores in his mouth, gums, or on or under his tongue.
  • You may see white or yellow film or soft whitish patches or pus on his mouth or tongue.
  • Your child’s mouth may be bleeding.
  • He may be drooling.
  • Your child may tell you that his mouth feels dry, is painful or burns when eating hot and cold foods.
  • His tongue may be dry, cracked or blistered.
  • Your child’s saliva may be more, less or thicker than usual.
  • Your child may have unusual mouth dryness.
  • He may have difficulty swallowing or his throat may feel sore.

Reducing the Risk of Getting Mouth Sores

Although there is no surefire way to prevent mouth sores, you can reduce your child’s risk. With this in mind, begin by asking your child’s doctor what is the likelihood that he will develop mouth sores. Then ask the doctor if you should try any preventative measures.

Preventative measures such as the ones’ below may help reduce your child’s risk:
  • Proper mouth care – practicing good oral hygiene is of very important. This helps to lower the chances of infection and other complications that can occur because of mouth sores. Another key point is, if at all possible, schedule a full dental check-up and cleaning for your child prior to starting treatment.
  • Gently clean and rinse the mouth often – especially after every meal. using one of these solutions: (stir of shake the solution well, swish it around and gently gargle, then spit it out)
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda mixed with 2 cups water or
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt in a quart of water.
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste – use a very soft nylon bristle brush and non-abrasive toothpaste. You can soften the brush even more by placing it in very warm water or by soaking it in hot water before brushing. Also rinse the brush with hot or warm water during brushing. When done brushing, rinse the brush well in hot water and store in a dry place. If the toothbrush still hurts, try using a soft mouth swab. However, do not use the lemon glycerin swabs because they can dry and irritate the mouth. You can also make your own mouth swab by wrapping gauze around a popsicle stick. A soft cloth wrapped around the finger also works well as a soft toothbrush.
  • Keep lips moist with a mild lip balm or cocoa butter. A small amount of Vitamin E can sometimes help. Simply puncture a 500-unit Vitamin E capsule and squeeze the contents on the ulcer.

How To Manage Mouth Sores

Despite your best efforts, your child may still get mouth sores. Treating and managing mouth sores involves minimizing the pain until the cells of the mouth can heal. Your child’s doctor may prescribe pain medication and/or a mouth rinse to reduce the pain and irritation. There are also steps that you can take to help your child feel more comfortable. Here are some that we found particularly helpful:

  • Avoid painful foods and liquids. Your childshouldstay away from acidic foods and juices such as oranges, lemons and grapefruits. He should also avoid spicy foods like chili powder, cloves, curry, hot sauce, nutmeg and pepper. Limit foods that are tart or salty, pickled, or tomato-based which can also be very irritating. Avoid fruits that contain little seeds, such as berries. These small seeds can be irritating to the mouth.
  • Fizzy carbonated drinks and sodas should be avoided as well as caffeinated drinks. In addition, canned broths with high salt content can irritate mouth sores and should be avoided.
  • Sharp, rough-textured and crunchy foods can be very painful to eat. In view of this, avoid dry toast, granola, chips, pretzels, and nuts. Instead opt for softer foods cut in small pieces which are easier to chew and swallow.
  • Food temperature matters – hot foods or fluids can irritate an already sore mouth. Hence, foods that are lukewarm or cool in temperature are less irritating.
  • Use a straw – use a straw in order to drink liquids may help keep liquids away from sore areas in the mouth.

Choose Less Painful Foods

  • Soft, bland foods for example, cut into small bites are easier to chew and swallow than crunchy and/or spicy foods.
    • Serve soups and stews at room temperature. Meats should be soft and tender.
    • Try breakfast foods like cooked cereals made with plenty of water of milk. Soft-boiled or scrambled eggs, pancakes, waffles, and cold cereal that has been softened in milk are also good options.
    • Side dishes such as macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and rice or risotto are less abrasive to eat and swallow.
    • Desserts like custard, ice cream, milkshakes, sherbet, and tapioca pudding are soothing and easy to swallow.
    • Try snacks like applesauce, gelatin, smoothies, and yoghurt.
    • Consider using a blender or food processor to puree foods.
    • Cook foods until they are soft and tender.
    • Serve foods with gravy, broths, or sauces.
    • Choose soft or canned fruits or applesauce instead of raw fruits with skins.
    • Add flavor without sting – season foods with herbs such as basil, oregano, and thyme.
    • Add broth, sauces, gravy, or soup to foods to soften and moisten them.
    • Sooth pain by sucking on frozen fruits (like frozen grapes, cantaloupe wedges, peach slices or watermelon), fruit pops, fruit ices or ice chips.
    • Use a blender to soften or puree foods when chewing or swallowing becomes difficult. 

For more helpful tips on how to help your child cope with cancer treatment, visit our blog and look specifically for our category Parent to Parent.

Note: Talk with your health care professional about specific medical condition and treatments. The information contained in this website is meant to be helpful and education, but is not a substitute for medical advice.