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Dry Mouth – Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

August 20th, 2021

Dry mouth or xerostomia (zeer-o-STOE-me-uh), is a condition in which salivary glands do not produce enough saliva to keep the mouth wet.

Decreased saliva and dry mouth can range from being a nuisance to something that negatively impacts your general health and the health of your teeth and gums, as well as your appetite and enjoyment of food.

Let’s take a look at the symptoms, potential causes and suggested treatment methods.



If your saliva production is low, you may notice these symptoms most or all of the time:

  • Dryness or a feeling of stickiness in your mouth and/or throat;
  • Saliva that seems thick and stringy;
  • Bad breath;
  • Difficulty chewing, speaking and swallowing;
  • Dry or sore throat and hoarseness;
  • Dry or grooved tongue;
  • A changed sense of taste;
  • Problems wearing dentures
  • Persistent thirst;
  • Cracked lips and corners of the mouth and;
  • Sores around and in the mouth.


Why Dry Mouth Needs to be Treated

Saliva neutralizes the acids from bacteria in the mouth, the foods you eat, and the beverages you drink. It also makes chewing and swallowing easier and aids digestion. If your mouth is dry however, the acids in your mouth are more concentrated and are more likely to cause tooth decay and gum disease. Also, the chances of tooth decay increase because food particles are more likely to linger in a dry mouth.

Saliva is also necessary to help your teeth absorb key minerals including calcium and fluoride. Without enough saliva, your teeth can become weaker and vulnerable to damage.

Additionally, when your mouth lacks proper lubrication due to insufficient saliva production, you have a greater risk of contracting thrush and parts of the mouth including the tongue and gums can become swollen and inflamed. And, this provides the perfect environment for germs to breed and cause bad breath.


Potential Causes of Dry Mouth …

… in Children

 Although dry mouth is more common in adults than it is in children, the condition can still occur in young people. These are some of the most common causes of dry mouth in children:

  • Excessive fluid loss, as often occurs during bouts of diarrhea and stomach bugs or during hot summer weather;
  • Mouth breathing;
  • Medications prescribed for mood disorders and childhood cancers and,
  • Some medical conditions, including diabetes and Sjogren’s syndrome.

… in Adults

Adults can develop dry mouth for all the same reasons children can. In addition, the following factors may also cause dry mouth in adults:

  • Medications for high blood pressure, allergies, colds, the flu, and Parkinson’s disease and,
  • Some medical conditions, including Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

… in Older Adults

Older adults are more likely to suffer from dry mouth than any other age group. It is not however due to being older. It is because they are more likely to have illnesses and take medications that can trigger the condition compared to younger Canadians. Older adults can develop dry mouth for all the reasons children and adults do.

Whatever the age, it is important to consult with a doctor or dentist regarding treatment of the condition.



Treatment of dry mouth depends on the cause. Your doctor or dentist may:

  • Change medications that cause dry mouth.If your doctor believes a medication you are taking is the cause of your dry mouth, he / she may adjust your dosage or switch you to another medication that doesn’t cause a dry mouth.
  • Recommend products to moisturize your mouth.These can include prescription or over-the-counter mouth rinses, artificial saliva or moisturizers to lubricate your mouth. Mouthwashes designed for dry mouth, especially ones with xylitol, such as Biotene Dry Mouth Oral Rinse or Act Dry Mouth Mouthwash.

If you have severe dry mouth, your doctor or dentist may:

  • Prescribe medication that stimulates saliva. For example, pilocarpine (Salagen) or cevimeline (Evoxac).
  • Protect your teeth.To prevent cavities that can result from dry mouth your dentist might fit you for fluoride trays, which you fill with fluoride and wear over your teeth at night. She / he may also recommend using a rinse containing chlorhexidine on a weekly basis.


Some at home treatments

In addition to the advice from your doctor and/or dentist these tips may help relieve your dry mouth symptoms:

  • Sip water, sugar-free drinks or suck ice chips throughout the day to moisten your mouth. Drink water with meals to aid chewing and swallowing;
  • Chew sugar-free gumor suck on sugar-free hard candies;
  • Try over-the-counter saliva substitutesthat 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.
  • Add moisture to the air at nightwith a room humidifier.
  • Moisturize your lipsto soothe dry or cracked areas.


Avoid products that can make your symptoms worse, including:

  • Caffeine and alcohol as they can cause dryness and irritation. Also, avoid using 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 as these can worsen your dry mouth and,
  • Sugary or acidic foods and candies because they increase the risk of tooth decay.
  • Salty foods such as potato chips, deli meats, processed foods, fried foods and canned pantry staple high is sodium as they can dry out your mouth.





Mayo Clinic

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