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Oral Complications of Chemotherapy and Head/Neck Radiation (PDQ®): Supportive care - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Oral Mucositis

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Evidence from several studies has supported the potential efficacy of low-level laser therapy in addition to oral care to decrease the duration of chemotherapy-induced oral mucositis in children.[34][Level of evidence: I][35][Level of evidence: I]

Mucositis Management

  • Bland rinses:
  • Topical anesthetics:
    • Lidocaine: viscous, ointments, sprays.
    • Benzocaine: sprays, gels.
    • 0.5% or 1.0% dyclonine hydrochloride (HCl).
    • Diphenhydramine solution.
  • Mucosal coating agents:
  • Analgesics:
    • Benzydamine HCl topical rinse (not approved in the United States).
    • Opioid drugs: oral, intravenous (e.g., bolus, continuous infusion, patient-controlled analgesia [PCA]), patches, transmucosal.
  • Growth factor (keratinocyte growth factor-1):
    • Palifermin (approved by the FDA in December 2004 to decrease the incidence and duration of severe oral mucositis in patients undergoing high-dose chemotherapy with or without radiation therapy followed by bone marrow transplant for hematologic cancers).

Management of oral mucositis via topical approaches should address efficacy, patient acceptance, and appropriate dosing. A stepped approach is typically used, with progression from one level to the next as follows:

  • Bland rinses (e.g., 0.9% normal saline and/or sodium bicarbonate solutions).
  • Mucosal coating agents (e.g., antacid solutions, kaolin solutions).
  • Water-soluble lubricating agents, including artificial saliva for xerostomia.
  • Topical anesthetics (e.g., viscous lidocaine, benzocaine sprays/gels, dyclonine rinses, diphenhydramine solutions).
  • Cellulose film-forming agents for covering localized ulcerative lesions (e.g., hydroxypropyl cellulose).

Normal saline solution is prepared by adding approximately 1 tsp of table salt to 32 oz of water. The solution can be administered at room or refrigerated temperatures, depending on patient preference. The patient should rinse and swish approximately 1 tbsp, followed by expectoration; this can be repeated as often as necessary to maintain oral comfort. Sodium bicarbonate (1–2 tbsp/qt) can be added, if viscous saliva is present. Saline solution can enhance oral lubrication directly as well as by stimulating salivary glands to increase salivary flow.

A soft toothbrush that is replaced regularly should be used to maintain oral hygiene.[17] Foam-swab brushes do not effectively clean teeth and should not be considered a routine substitute for a soft nylon-bristled toothbrush; additionally, the rough sponge surface may irritate and damage the mucosal surfaces opposite the tooth surfaces being brushed.

On the basis of nonoral mucosa wound-healing studies, the repeated use of hydrogen peroxide rinses for daily preventive oral hygiene is not recommended, especially if mucositis is present, because of the potential for damage to fibroblasts and keratinocytes, which can cause delayed wound healing.[36,37,38,39] Using 3% hydrogen peroxide diluted 1:1 with water or normal saline to remove hemorrhagic debris may be helpful; however, this approach should only be used for 1 or 2 days because more extended use may impair timely healing of mucosal lesions associated with bleeding.[40]

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