Dry mouth, or xerostomia (zeer-o-STOE-me-uh), refers to a condition in which the salivary glands in your mouth don't make enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. Dry mouth is often due to the side effect of certain medications or aging issues or as a result of radiation therapy for cancer. Less often, dry mouth may be caused by a condition that directly affects the salivary glands.
Saliva helps prevent tooth decay by neutralizing acids produced by bacteria, limiting bacterial growth and washing away food particles. Saliva also enhances your ability to taste and makes it easier to chew and swallow. In addition, enzymes in saliva aid in digestion.
Decreased saliva and dry mouth can range from being merely a nuisance to something that has a major impact on your general health and the health of your teeth and gums, as well as your appetite and enjoyment of food. Treatment for dry mouth depends on the cause.
In addition to the advice from your doctor, these tips may help relieve your dry mouth symptoms:
Sip water or sugar-free drinks or suck ice chips throughout the day to moisten your mouth, and drink water during meals to aid chewing and swallowing.
Chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free hard candies. Products that contain xylitol may also help prevent cavities. However, in some people, xylitol, which is often found in sugar-free gum or sugar-free candies, may cause gas or diarrhea if consumed in large amounts.
Try over-the-counter saliva substitutes that contain xylitol, such as Mouth Kote or Oasis Moisturizing Mouth Spray, or that contain carboxymethylcellulose (kahr-bok-see-meth-ul-SEL-u-lohs) or hydroxyethyl cellulose (hi-drok-see-ETH-ul SEL-u-lohs), such as Biotene OralBalance Moisturizing Gel.
Breathe through your nose, not your mouth. You may need to seek treatment for snoring if it causes you to breathe through your mouth during the night.
Add moisture to the air at night with a room humidifier.
Moisturize your lips to soothe dry or cracked areas.
Avoid products that can make your symptoms worse. These include:
Caffeine and alcohol. These products can cause dryness and irritation. Don't use a mouthwash that contains alcohol.
All tobacco. If you smoke or chew tobacco, stop, because tobacco products can dry and irritate your mouth.
Over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants. These can worsen your dry mouth.
Sugary or acidic foods and candies. These increase the risk of tooth decay. Also avoid spicy or salty food because they can cause irritation.
Saliva is important to maintain the health of your teeth and mouth. Taking these steps to protect your teeth may also help your dry mouth condition:
Brush with a fluoride toothpaste and floss your teeth. Ask your dentist if you might benefit from prescription fluoride toothpaste, toothpaste containing betaine, or a tooth gel to neutralize bacteria acids.
Use a fluoride rinse or brush-on fluoride gel before bedtime.
See your dentist at least twice yearly to have your teeth examined and plaque removed, to help prevent tooth decay.