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Dry mouth Dr Sally Beech Reviewed by Dr Sally Beech, Dentist

Saliva helps reduce your risk of tooth decay and gum disease, so it’s important to address dry mouth. Find out causes and possible treatments.

If your mouth and throat often feel dry, it might mean you're not producing enough saliva. Saliva is important to dental health because it helps wash away leftover food and bacteria from your teeth.

Dry mouth syndrome (also called xerostomia) affects people all over Australia and New Zealand and tends to be more common as you get older. You should speak with a doctor if you experience persistent dry mouth ⁠— it may be a sign of a health problem or could be caused by prescription medication. However, because a lack of sufficient saliva can affect your teeth and gums, it’s important to know how it might affect your dental health and what you can do.

What causes dry mouth?

If the feeling of dryness in your mouth doesn't go away even when you drink water, this might mean that something's affecting the salivary glands in your mouth and preventing them from making enough saliva.

There can be many possible reasons for this, including:

  • a side-effect of over-the-counter or prescription medication (including some antidepressants, antihistamines and blood pressure medications, among others)
  • drinking too many alcoholic or soft drinks
  • smoking or chewing tobacco
  • drug use
  • snoring or sleep disorders
  • stress or anxiety
  • damage to nerves in the face
  • medical conditions such as Sjögren's syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes
  • infections such as oral thrush, mumps or hepatitis C
  • cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy
  • hormone changes during pregnancy or menopause.
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What are other symptoms of dry mouth syndrome?

As well as a sudden dry mouth, you might also experience:

  • bad breath
  • thicker saliva
  • a rough or sticky tongue
  • dry or cracked lips
  • dry or itchy eyes
  • a sore throat
  • difficulty when swallowing
  • difficulty when speaking
  • dentures coming loose.

A lack of sufficient saliva may also increase your risk of mouth ulcers, yeast infections and other oral health problems such as tooth decay and gum disease.

If a dry mouth makes it harder to chew and swallow food, this can lead to problems with nutrition or digestion.

Dry mouth solutions and treatments from a dentist

Dentists have a few ways to help with dry mouth:

  • Prescription or over-the-counter mouthwashes or saliva substitutes. Your dentist may be able to recommend specific products to encourage saliva production or act as an artificial saliva substitute. These can be toothpastes, mouthwashes and even special chewing gum.
  • Professional cleaning. If you aren’t producing enough saliva, your teeth and gums can be at a higher risk of dental health problems. Regular cleaning appointments can help remove any plaque or tartar and may lower your risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
  • Fluoride treatments. Because dry mouth can leave your teeth more vulnerable to erosion and decay, it’s important to give your enamel as much extra support as you can. Regular fluoride application (usually in the form of a gel, rinse or foam) might help.

Whether a medical professional has already clarified the cause of your dry mouth or you’re just noticing signs of dry mouth recently, you should mention any oral dryness to a dentist before getting a check-up. To help give you as comprehensive a recommendation as possible, dentists will want to know your medical history and any medications that may be contributing to dry mouth.

But even if you’re not sure whether you have dry mouth syndrome or what might be causing it, a dentist may be able to help you understand whether you’re producing enough saliva and what might be causing any issues.

They may need to refer you to a doctor. If you have an underlying health problem, you'll need to get a diagnosis from an appropriate health professional and discuss your treatment options. If dry mouth is a side effect of medication you're taking, you should ask your doctor if they can change this rather than changing it yourself.

How to manage dry mouth at home

  • Chewing sugar-free gum and eating chewy foods can help to stimulate the salivary glands and produce more saliva.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day to help rinse and hydrate your mouth, especially after eating.
  • Avoid sugary, acidic and alcoholic drinks, tobacco and other substances that can dry out the mouth.
  • Good brushing and flossing can help to prevent oral health problems related to dry mouth.

Questions about dry mouth? 

Consider speaking with a doctor, chemist or dentist. 

If you want to speak with a dentist, find a dental clinic near you.

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The purpose of this article is to promote better understanding of dental health topics. It’s not meant to replace professional advice or diagnosis. Always talk to a dentist, doctor or other qualified healthcare professional if you have a question about dental or medical conditions.

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