I had surgery for cancer of the throat and have a very dry taste in my mouth.


Last year, I had surgery for cancer of the throat. My surgery has healed and I’ve completed a series of radiation treatments.

Since then I have had a very dry “cotton-ball” taste in my mouth that I don’t seem to get rid of. Can you suggest some foods that are moist or a diet that would help me?

Any food that has a lot of water in it (beverages, vegetables or fruits) will only provide temporary relief. Either surgery or radiation may be the cause of your problem.

First, your surgeon may have had to remove your salivary glands around the base of your mouth. Or second, if they were not removed, your ability to produce saliva may have been destroyed during your radiation treatments, which were necessary to kill any remaining cancer cells.

Patricia Sander, Clinical Instructor with the School of Dental Hygiene at the University of Minnesota used a formula for “Artificial Saliva”. Your pharmacist can inexpensively mix it as follows:

  • 20 cc of 0.9 to 4 percent methylcellulose
  • 10 cc of glycerin
  • 60 cc of normal saline.

(The 4 percent methyl cellulose will make the inside of your mouth more slippery than the 0.9 percent solution.) This formula can be put in either a spray bottle or squeeze bottle. At first, you may need 4 to 6 drops of the solution at a time. Use it whenever your mouth feels dry during the day. Later, your use of artificial saliva will decrease.

Commercially prepared formulas of artificial saliva are now available. Ask your pharmacist to recommend one for you to try.

Your mouth will feel soothed compared to the burning irritation you probably now experience. I have used artificial saliva with patients and they found it to be effective. You will find as time goes on you will only need two drops, three or four times per day.

Also be sure to brush your teeth, gums, and tongue frequently during the day. Your taste will be affected by an unbrushed mouth. Visit your dentist regularly as saliva helps prevent dental decay and if you have reduced amounts of saliva, you may experience more cavities than usual.