If you’re taking tamoxifen (Soltamox), you may experience unexpected side effects, like one MyBCTeam member who was surprised to find that their mouth was consistently dry. “I have only taken two doses of tamoxifen and now I have a super dry mouth and throat!” they wrote. “It is painful.”
Another member replied, “Yes! I finished last August, and I still struggle with dry mouth and eyes.”
Although dry mouth isn’t typically listed among the possible or common side effects of tamoxifen, a number of people with breast cancer report developing it. If you’re experiencing dry mouth (also referred to as xerostomia) while taking tamoxifen, it’s important to learn to manage it and improve your sense of well-being.
Keeping your mouth moist is important for more than comfort. Controlling dry mouth can also help you avoid cavities, gum disease, and eventual tooth loss.
Dry mouth occurs when your salivary glands don’t produce enough saliva. This can be an aftereffect of both radiation therapy and some chemotherapy, or it can be caused directly by other medications, potentially including hormone therapy like tamoxifen.
No research has pinpointed how many people with breast cancer experience dry mouth as a side effect of tamoxifen. While dry mouth seems to occur more frequently in people with breast cancer than it does in the general population, it’s unknown how many cases are related to tamoxifen versus other breast cancer treatments.
Regardless of the cause, dry mouth affects some people taking tamoxifen, so it’s important to know what you can do to feel better if you have mouth dryness.
A wide variety of strategies can help manage dry mouth due to tamoxifen. Some methods may be more helpful than others, so be prepared to try more than one before you find a routine that works for you.
Taking good care of your mouth can address dry mouth and help prevent additional dental problems, such as cavities. Brush your teeth two to four times a day using a soft toothbrush and toothpaste with fluoride. Floss once a day — or twice if your gums can tolerate it.
Consuming water at regular intervals can help keep your mouth moist even when your saliva production is down. You can sip from your favorite water bottle or even spray water into your mouth. The key is to keep taking in water, making sure to moisturize the entire inside of your mouth as often as possible. You may need to swish the water around to hit all the dry oral areas.
Regularly chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugar-free candy can help keep your mouth properly hydrated by stimulating saliva production.
At least one MyBCTeam member found that a gum specifically formulated for dry mouth helped the most. “I used Act Dry Mouth gum,” they wrote. “It keeps you salivating for quite a while.”
You may have to get this product through your dentist or oncology professional.
A variety of rinse options can help hydrate your mouth. A number of MyBCTeam members use Biotene, a rinse specifically formulated to help people with dry mouth. “I use Biotene spray and gel at night and carry the spray with me,” one member said.
Another added, “Biotene gel is really good too. I use it at night and have no problems. You just put it on your tongue — it melts, then move it around your mouth. It’s my favorite.”
You can also make your own mouth rinse using salt or baking soda. Recipes vary, and you may need to experiment to find what works for you. You might want to try an at-home solution before purchasing a product. Avoid over-the-counter mouthwashes that contain alcohol, which can be drying.
Running a cool mist humidifier at night can bring more moisture into your mouth and airways. When you’re inhaling more moisture overall, your body doesn’t have to work as hard to produce the saliva you need. Moister air may also help keep your throat and nasal passages healthier, as they can dry out during treatment too.
Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning your humidifier to avoid growth of bacteria.
A number of dietary changes could help improve your dry mouth. They might not all be effective for you, but you may find one or two that make a big difference. You might try to:
These strategies can not only help your body produce saliva but also make the most of the saliva you have.
How you eat can be as important as what you eat to encourage saliva production. Try drinking from a straw and thoroughly chewing each bite of food. These seemingly small changes might make a big difference in how dry or moist your mouth feels.
You don’t have to live with dry mouth from tamoxifen. If you’ve tried all the above solutions without success or you need help with severe dry mouth while you try out lifestyle changes, talk to your dentist or someone on your care team. “My dentist gave me several products for dry mouth,” one MyBCTeam member noted.
Your doctor or dentist may prescribe a medication to stimulate saliva production or recommend saliva substitutes or artificial saliva. These products are available only by prescription, so you’ll need to start with that conversation with a health care provider before you can see if these options will work for you.
MyBCTeam is the social network for people with breast cancer, and their loved ones. On MyBCTeam, more than 64,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with breast cancer.
Are you wondering how to combat dry mouth while taking tamoxifen? What strategies have you found to be helpful? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.