Foods to Avoid If You Have Dry Mouth

How to Make Eating Easier With Dry Mouth

Man drinking water
Man drinking water. Getty Images/A Carmichael/Photodisc

Dry mouth is a common side effect of radiation therapy for cancer patients who have undergone treatment to the head and neck region. It is caused by damage to the salivary glands when they are exposed to radiation.

When someone has dry mouth, eating can be a challenge, resulting in difficulty with chewing and swallowing, as there is little or no saliva to help break down the food. Mouth sores and infections can also develop, contributing to eating problems.

Even speaking can be difficult for dry mouth sufferers.

Some foods are easier to eat than others. Many people use trial-and-error to learn which foods can be tolerated. However, there are some foods that people with dry mouth should avoid for several different reasons.

Foods to Avoid if You Have Dry Mouth

1. Crusty Breads

Crusty breads can be difficult to chew and swallow. They can also irritate the inside of the mouth.
Choose Instead: If you like to eat bread, choose a softer variety. You may also try dipping bread in sauces or gravies. Basic Recipe for White Bread 

2. Acidic Foods

Foods with acidic ingredients like lemon and vinegar can definitely irritate the inside of the mouth, especially if you have mouth sores. You may find salad dressings to be irritating due to the vinegar content.
Choose Instead: Low-acid fruits and juices such as apple juice and bananas. Low-fat sour cream with seasonings for salad dressing.

3. Salty Foods

Like acidic foods, salty foods can irritate the inside of the mouth.
Choose Instead: Lower salt and reduced sodium foods.

4. Spicy Foods

Without saliva to protect the lining of the mouth, spicy foods can be especially irritating.
Choose Instead: Mild salsas and chilies, switch to mild green peppers and sweet peppers.

5. Sugary Foods and Drinks

Saliva serves many purposes in digestion and one of them is to break down sugars in food. People suffering from dry mouth are at an increased risk of developing dental decay and infections because sugars aren't properly being properly broken down. Due to the increased risk, it's best to avoid foods and drinks that contain sugar.
Choose Instead: Water, flavored water, sugar-free drinks and desserts.

6. Dry Foods

Dry foods like crackers, toasted breads, and chips can be extremely difficult to swallow if you have dry mouth. These types of foods depend on saliva to become soft for easier chewing and swallowing. Dry foods with sharp edges like crackers and tortilla chips and can also irritate the inside of your mouth.
Choose Instead: You can dip crackers and toasted breads in dips and sauces to make swallowing easier, but it may not not work for everyone. Some find success in dipping crackers in water or milk before eating. You may have to switch to less crunchy snacks.

7. Tough Meats

Meats can be especially challenging to eat for dry mouth sufferers. It is best to avoid tough meats altogether, but many people tolerate softer meats with a little modification.
Choose Instead: Softer meats. Try adding sauces and gravies to meats to help effectively chew and swallow. Remember to frequently take sips during meals -- it can help with swallowing and to also keep the mouth wet during meals. Gravy and Sauce Recipes

Combating Dry Mouth Takes Effort, But Can Be Controlled

Chronic dry mouth can be frustrating, especially for long term sufferers. Eating can become such a challenge and chore that some people begin to eat less, compromising their nutritional health.

Dry mouth can be managed a number of ways. Both pharmaceutical and over-the-counter remedies are available. Some patients find additional relief by adding a cool mist humidifier to their bedroom while they sleep and learning how to breathe through their noses instead of their mouths. There are many different ways to help combat dry mouth caused by radiation therapy.

More: Learn what you can do to combat dry mouth.

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