Dry Mouth – What it Is & How to Manage It

Dry mouth is a very common issue that some people experience, especially as they grow older. Formally known as xerostomia, it can be very uncomfortable and unpleasant for the person suffering from it. Understanding the causes of dry mouth and how to manage it is important for better oral health outcomes and quality of life.

What is Dry Mouth?

Dry mouth occurs when the salivary glands make insufficient saliva. This means the mouth is inadequately lubricated. Often a result of natural ageing processes, it can also be a result of certain medications or treatments for cancer. Occasionally, disease of the salivary gland itself may be the cause. Extreme thirst or anxiety can also temporarily cause a dry mouth.

At a minimum, dry mouth is an annoyance, but for many people, it has potentially severe implications for the health of the teeth and gums, the experience and enjoyment of eating, and even for one’s general health and wellbeing.

Symptoms of Dry Mouth

There are numerous signs and symptoms of dry mouth:

· A sticky, dry sensation in the mouth.

· Bad breath (halitosis).

· Thick, stringy, or smelly saliva.

· Difficulty speaking, chewing, and swallowing.

· Altered taste.

· Itching gums or tongue.

· A dry, raw, furrowed or grooved tongue.

· Hoarseness.

· Pain or burning sensation in the mouth.

· Dry nostrils, sinuses, or eyes.

· Sore, dry throat.

· Difficulty wearing dentures.

· Yeast (candida) infection of mouth or lips.

· Food intolerances (acidic or spicy).


Saliva is crucial for health and wellbeing. It keeps the mouth (and throat via swallowing) comfortable and lubricated. It helps with tasting, chewing, swallowing, and speaking, and neutralizes oral bacteria to minimize potential harm. Saliva also helps prevent tooth decay by removing food particles and sugars from the mouth.

Saliva is 99% water; the other 1% contains ions, electrolytes, enzymes, macro-proteins, and mucous. It plays several roles:

· Lubricates tissues and food.

· Dilutes and cleans sugars and dietary acids.

· Protects the oral mucosa and teeth.

· Enables taste.

· Balances the remineralization and demineralization of the teeth.

· Commences digestive processes.

· Contributes to the immune system.

· Neutralizes harmful bacteria.

· Aids chewing, swallowing, and speech.

Causes of Dry Mouth

· Ageing – a lot of elderly people will develop dry mouth, often caused by chronic health problems, poor nutrition, and medicines.

· Medications – dry mouth can be a side effect of a myriad of medicines, including those used to treat high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, decongestants, antihistamines, pain relievers, muscle relaxants, and many more.

· Snoring/Mouth Breathing – both of these can dehydrate the mouth and throat.

· Smoking, Vaping, and Alcohol Use – both of these activities inhibit healthy oral health and salivary function.

· Nerve Damage – due to an injury to the head or neck area.

· Health Conditions – including diabetes, oral yeast infection, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, autoimmune disorders, and HIV/AIDS.

· Cancer Treatment – chemotherapy can inhibit salivary production and its formation. Radiation therapy to the head and neck area can also damage the tissues including salivary glands and this may dramatically limit or even halt saliva production. This may be temporary or permanent.

· Illicit Drug Use – including cannabis and methamphetamine.

Untreated, ongoing dry mouth can lead to bigger problems, including oral sores, cracked lips, poor nutrition, tooth decay and plaque, gum disease, tooth loss, and oral thrush, which is a yeast infection.

Managing Dry Mouth

· Understand your risk – which is higher for older people, those who have poor nutrition or poor oral hygiene, who eat a lot of sugar or take certain medicines, who have chronic health conditions or nerve damage in the head or neck, have been treated for cancer, and who vape or smoke, drink alcohol, or use illicit drugs.

· See your dentist. Selecting the right dentist for you is imperative for your ongoing dental and oral health at all stages of life. This means finding a dentist who is located conveniently to your home or work. They should have a clinical approach, bedside manner, and personality that suits you and makes you feel welcomed, heard, and at ease. They should always be professional and inspire confidence. Part of this also means having a well-equipped clinic and using the very best modern instruments and consumables that are readily available from their local suppliers – for example, the best Perth dental supplies providers.

· Hydrate. Drink plenty of water and eat plenty of water-rich foods like watermelon, cucumber, apples, chia seeds, and smoothies.

· Try to breathe through your nose.

· Address snoring – your doctor, dentist, or pharmacist can help with this.

· Check your medications – speak with your doctor.

· Use a humidifier in your room at night.

· Your doctor may prescribe medicine or appliances to stimulate your salivary glands.

· Under medical advice, you may use an artificial saliva spray or other product to replace saliva.

· Avoid using alcohol-based mouthwashes, lemon water, or lemon drops. These are acidic and will make the issue worse.

Ultimately, work with your dentist or doctor for advice at the first sign of dry mouth for best outcomes. You don’t need to suffer in silence.

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