Managing dry mouth
Dry mouth—or xerostomia (zero STOW-meuh)—
may be a symptom of a medical condition,
or it may be caused by other factors such
as medications, medical treatments, or certain
habits, like tobacco use.
Dry mouth can occur along with certain medical
conditions. For example, it is a key indication of
Sjögren (SHOW-grin) syndrome, a disorder in which
the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own
moisture-producing glands, including the salivary
glands. This impairment results in dry mouth due to
a lack of saliva. Certain emotional states, such as
depression or anxiety, also can leave you feeling like
your mouth is dry.
A number of medications can cause dry mouth, such
as those used to control allergies, cold symptoms, or
blood pressure, as well as some pain relievers or antidepressants.
Talk to your physician or pharmacist, or
check the information that comes with your medication
to see if dry mouth is a possible side effect. Some
medical treatments, like head and neck radiation, can
affect the salivary glands and reduce the flow of saliva.
There are personal habits, like mouth breathing,
drinking alcohol, or using tobacco products, that can
dry your mouth as well.
THE ROLE OF SALIVA
Sometimes you’ll feel like your mouth is dry, even when
you are secreting saliva. In other cases, though, you’ll
notice a decrease in the flow of saliva along with dry
mouth. Saliva is important for a number of reasons.
For example, saliva cleanses the mouth, it helps you
chew and swallow food, and it even helps you speak.
In addition to making it difficult to chew, swallow, or
speak,a low saliva flow can cause the following:
- dry, cracked lips;
- a rough tongue;
- bad breath;
- infections on the surface of the tongue, cheeks, or gums.
If you are not secreting enough saliva and you
wear dentures, you might notice that your dentures
do not fit properly. Dentures that fit loosely can cause sores.
Saliva also can help protect your teeth from decay.
Your teeth are coated with a film of bacteria called
plaque. When you eat or drink foods that contain sugar,
these bacteria produce acid that can cause tooth decay.
Saliva affects this acid in a way that makes it less
harmful to your teeth. When you don’t have enough
saliva, you might develop cavities.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
If you notice that you are experiencing any of the oral
health changes listed above, speak with your dentist.
He or she can do an examination and will ask you
questions about your symptoms, overall health, and
medical history, including what medications you are
Once you’ve narrowed down what could be causing
the problem, it will be easier to develop a plan to help
minimize the effects, particularly of low saliva flow.
Your dentist may suggest that you use a special gel or
rinse designed to keep your mouth moist. If you are
developing cavities, your dentist might prescribe a
toothpaste or mouth rinse that has fluoride in it to
help protect your teeth. He or she also might apply a
fluoride gel or give you a fluoride-containing rinse
during your office visit.
Other ways you might find relief include the
- chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free hard candies to stimulate
- sucking on ice chips;
- sipping water with meals to aid in chewing and swallowing food;
- using alcohol-free mouth rinse;
- avoiding carbonated drinks (like soda), caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol;
- using a lanolin-based lip balm to soothe cracked or dry lips.
hygiene is especially important for people who have
decreased salivary flow and, therefore, are at increased
risk of tooth decay. Brush twice a day with toothpaste
that contains fluoride. Clean between your teeth once
daily with floss or an interdental cleaner. Visit your
dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral
Prepared by the American Dental Association (ADA) Division of Science.
Copyright _ 2015 American Dental Association. Unlike other portions of
JADA, the print and online versions of this page may be reproduced as a
handout for patients without reprint permission from the ADA Publishing
Division. Any other use, copying, or distribution of this material, whether in
printed or electronic form and including the copying and posting of this
material on a website, is strictly prohibited without prior written consent of
the ADA Publishing Division.
“For the Dental Patient” provides general information on dental treatments
to dental patients. It is designed to prompt discussion between dentist
and patient about treatment options and does not substitute for the dentist’s
professional assessment based on the individual patient’s needs and desires.
FOR THE PATIENT
A40 JADA 146(2) http://jada.ada.org February 2015