I frequently have a dry mouth. What can I do to relieve this problem?

Answers from Alan Carr, D.M.D.

The best way to treat dry mouth — known medically as xerostomia (zeer-o-STOE-me-uh) — depends on what's causing it. You can do some things to relieve dry mouth temporarily. But for the best long-term dry mouth remedy, you need to address its cause.

To relieve your dry mouth:

  • Chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free hard candies to stimulate the flow of saliva. For some people, xylitol, which is often found in sugar-free gum or sugar-free candies, may cause diarrhea or cramps if consumed in large amounts.
  • Limit your caffeine intake because caffeine can make your mouth drier.
  • Don't use mouthwashes that contain alcohol because they can be drying.
  • Stop all tobacco use if you smoke or chew tobacco.
  • Sip water regularly.
  • Try over-the-counter saliva substitutes — look for products containing xylitol, such as Mouth Kote or Oasis Moisturizing Mouth Spray, or ones containing carboxymethylcellulose (kahr-bok-see-meth-ul-SEL-u-lohs) or hydroxyethyl cellulose (hi-drok-see-ETH-ul SEL-u-lohs), such as Biotene Oral Balance.
  • Try a mouthwash designed for dry mouth — especially one that contains xylitol, such as Biotene Dry Mouth Oral Rinse or ACT Total Care Dry Mouth Rinse, which also offer protection against tooth decay.
  • Avoid using over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants because they can make your symptoms worse.
  • Breathe through your nose, not your mouth.
  • Add moisture to the air at night with a room humidifier.

Saliva is important to maintain the health of your teeth and mouth. If you frequently have a dry mouth, taking these steps to protect your oral health may also help your condition:

  • Avoid sugary or acidic foods and candies because they increase the risk of tooth decay.
  • Brush with a fluoride toothpaste. Ask your dentist if you might benefit from prescription fluoride toothpaste.
  • Use a fluoride rinse or brush-on fluoride gel before bedtime.
  • Visit your dentist at least twice yearly to detect and treat tooth decay or other dental problems.

If these steps don't improve your dry mouth, talk to your doctor or dentist. The cause could be a medication or another condition. Medications are one of the most common causes of dry mouth. Long-term relief from your dry mouth may mean stopping or changing your medication or its dosage, or addressing underlying health issues.

Jul. 23, 2013