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Dry mouth (or “xerostomia”) is a common problem. One reason for it is radiation for head and neck cancers. 80% of people who complete this form of cancer treatment have dry mouth as a result. Keep reading for some home remedies that could help, as well as research showing how acupuncture and herbs may help bring you relief.

The Memorial Sloan Cancer Centre has some other home remedy suggestions you can try, including a homemade mouthwash[1].

Homemade Natural Mouthwash for Dry Mouth

  • Making your own mouthwash out of saline and baking soda:
  • Blend 1 cup of warm water with 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1/8 teaspoon salt.
  • Swish in your mouth for a few seconds, then rinse out with water.
  • Repeat every three hours.

Herbal medicine is another option for people experiencing xerostomia. This review paper found that many different Traditional East Asian herbal medicine formulas were effective at supporting dry mouth.[2] Another study also found that patients who took Chinese herbal medicine during radiation ended up with less dry mouth and better quality of life in other ways [3]

We always suggest you get a custom medicinal tea formula after consulting with a licensed Chinese herbalist. However, here is a simple herbal tea that can be used on a regular basis for those with dry mouth:

Qing Yan Ying (Clear the Throat Drink) [4]

Pang Da Hai (semes sterculiae lychnoporae, malva nuts) 50 g
Mai Men Dong (Radix Ophiopogonis) 50 g
Jin Yin Hua (Flos Lonicerae Japonicae, Japanese honeysuckle) 30 g
Jie Geng (Radix Platycodonis), 30 g
Sheng Gan Cao (Radix et Rhizoma Glycerrhizae, licorice), 30 g

Soak in water for 30 minutes and then bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 minutes and strain. Drink the decoction.

Acupuncture for Dry Mouth or Xerostomia

Some recent studies have shown that regular acupuncture during or after radiation can help with dry mouth. Researchers at the MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Texas found that acupuncture 3 times per week for 6-7 weeks during radiation resulted in significantly fewer and less severe dry mouth symptoms one year after treatment.[5]

The study’s principal investigator, Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., professor of Palliative, Rehabilitation, and Integrative Medicine and director of the Integrative Medicine Program, said: “The evidence is to a point where patients should incorporate acupuncture alongside radiation treatment as a way to prevent the severity of dry mouth symptoms. I think with this study we can add acupuncture to the list for the prevention and treatment of xerostomia, and the guidelines for the use of acupuncture in the oncology setting should be revised to include this important chronic condition.”[6]

An earlier study in 2012 looked at patients after radiation for head and neck cancer was already done. It examined patients across 7 cancer centres in the UK, and found that patients were less likely to report dry, sticky mouth, or needing to sip water frequently, after their acupuncture treatments.[7]

Often, patients experiencing dry mouth also experience loss of appetite, weight loss, and other issues such as fatigue, poor sleep, etc. If you’d like to discuss your own condition and whether or not Chinese medicine and acupuncture could help you, feel free to click here to book a free consultation with one of our practitioners.

References:

[1] https://www.mskcc.org/news/five-natural-remedies-dry-mouth-xerostomia
[2] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1534735417728336
[3] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/307852372_Efficacy_of_Traditional_Chinese_Medicine_in_Xerostomia_and_Quality_of_Life_during_Radiotherapy_for_Head_and_Neck_Cancer_A_Prospective_Pilot_Study
[4] Cui et al, Treatment with Chinese and Biomedicine for the Side Effects of Radiation Therapy. In Zhang Dai Zhao, ed. Alleviating the Side Effects of Cancer Treatment: An Integrated Clinical Approach with Chinese Medicine, Beijing, 2007.
[5] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2757250
[6] https://www.mdanderson.org/newsroom/acupuncture-reduces-radiation-induced-dry-mouth-for-cancer-patients.h00-159308568.html
[7] https://www.annalsofoncology.org/article/S0923-7534(19)37141-8/fulltext

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