Xerostomia or Dry Mouth

Dry mouth, or xerostomia, is a lack of saliva (spit). Saliva helps protect your teeth from decay and your mouth from bacterial infection. Saliva also helps you chew, swallow, and digest food. Dry mouth happens when your saliva glands are not working properly. This causes a decrease in the amount of saliva your mouth produces.

What increases my risk for dry mouth?

  • Medicines, such as antidepressants, allergy medicines, blood pressure medicines, or pain medicines
  • Older age
  • Radiation therapy or chemotherapy
  • Dehydration
  • Conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, Sjögren syndrome, or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Stress
  • Smoking cigarettes, e-cigarettes, or using smokeless tobacco

What other signs and symptoms might I have?

  • Dry, sticky mouth
  • Thick or stringy saliva
  • Scratchy, burning, or tingling feeling on your tongue
  • Chapped, cracked lips or corners of your mouth
  • Trouble talking, chewing, or swallowing
  • Thirst or bad breath
  • Hoarse voice or dry throat
  • Sores on your mouth or tongue
  • Change in taste

How is dry mouth diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your mouth and ask about your symptoms. You may need any of the following:

  • A salivary flow test may show how much saliva your mouth produces.
  • An x-ray, CT, or MRI may show a blockage, such as a stone or mass. You may be given contrast liquid to help the gland show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is dry mouth treated?

If your dry mouth is caused by medicines, your healthcare provider may change your medicine or adjust the dose. He may recommend saliva substitutes that help keep your mouth moist. You may also need medicines that help increase your saliva production.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Drink liquids as directed. You may need to drink more water than usual. It may help to sip small amounts throughout the day. This will help keep your mouth moist. Do not drink caffeine or alcohol. Do not drink acidic juices such as tomato, orange, or grapefruit.
  • Eat soft, moist foods. Choose foods that are cool or room temperature. Moisten dry foods with milk, broth, or other sauces. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish.
  • Brush at least twice each day. This will help prevent tooth decay and cavities. You may need to brush after each meal as well. Use a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Floss gently once each day. Use over-the-counter mouthrinses that help increase saliva. Do not use mouthrinses that have alcohol.
  • Chew sugarless gum or suck on sugar-free candy. This will help increase saliva production.
  • Use a cool mist humidifier. A humidifier will increase air moisture in your home. This may help moisten your mouth, especially at night.
  • Rinse your mouth 4 times each day. Rinse after every meal. Use a mixture of salt and baking soda. Mix ½ teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of baking soda in 1 cup of warm water.
  • Do not smoke. Tobacco products can dry out your mouth. Do not use e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco in place of cigarettes or to help you quit. They still contain nicotine. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have trouble swallowing.
  • Your mouth, face, or neck are swollen.
  • You have trouble opening your mouth.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have tooth pain.
  • Your gums are irritated, painful, or bleed.
  • Your symptoms do not get better, or they get worse.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.