I often have a dry mouth. What can I do to help with this problem?
Answer From Cindy Zhou, D.M.D., M.S.
There are some steps that you can take to ease dry mouth — also known as xerostomia (zeer-o-STOE-me-uh). Beyond these tips, you also can take steps to protect your oral health, which may help your dry mouth. The key is to address what's causing your dry mouth.
To relieve your dry mouth:
- Chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free hard candies to help the flow of saliva. For some people, xylitol, which often is found in sugar-free gum or sugar-free candies, may cause diarrhea or cramps if a lot is eaten.
- Limit your caffeine intake because caffeine can make your mouth drier.
- Do not use mouthwashes that contain alcohol because they can dry your mouth.
- Stop all tobacco use if you smoke or chew tobacco.
- Sip water regularly.
- Try saliva substitutes available without a prescription. Look for products containing xylitol, if you're not sensitive to it, such as Mouth Kote or Oasis Moisturizing Mouth Spray. Or look for products containing carboxymethylcellulose (kahr-bok-see-meth-ul-SEL-u-lohs) or hydroxyethyl cellulose (hi-drok-see-ETH-ul SEL-u-lohs), such as Biotene Dry Mouth Oralbalance Moisturizing Gel.
- Try a mouthwash designed for dry mouth — especially one that contains xylitol, if you're not sensitive to it, such as Biotene Dry Mouth Oral Rinse, bioXtra Dry Mouth Ultra Mild Mouthrinse or ACT Dry Mouth Mouthwash.
- Stay away from antihistamines and decongestants available without a prescription because they can make your symptoms worse. Antihistamines are used to block the effects of histamine, a substance in your body that can cause symptoms of allergies. Decongestants are used to ease a stuffy nose by reducing the swelling of blood vessels in your nose.
- Breathe through your nose, not your mouth.
- Add moisture to the air at night with a room humidifier.
Saliva is important to keep your teeth and mouth healthy. If you often have a dry mouth, taking these steps to protect your oral health also may help:
- Stay away from foods and drinks that have a lot of sugar or those that have a lot of acid, such as carbonated drinks. They raise your risk of tooth decay.
- Stay away from dry, spicy, salty or hard-to-chew foods because they can cause pain when your mouth is dry.
- Brush with a fluoride toothpaste — ask your dentist if a prescription fluoride toothpaste may help you. You also may be prescribed fluoride in addition to your toothpaste.
- Use a fluoride rinse or brush-on fluoride gel before bedtime. Sometimes a custom-fit fluoride applicator that your dentist creates can make this more effective.
- Visit your dentist at least once a year to detect and treat tooth decay or other dental problems. You may need to visit your dentist more often, depending on your dental needs.
If these steps do not make your dry mouth better, talk to your doctor or dentist. The cause could be a medicine or another health problem. Medicines are one of the most common causes of dry mouth. Easing dry mouth long term may mean stopping or changing your medicine or its dose, or looking at underlying health issues.
Cindy Zhou, D.M.D., M.S.
May 27, 2023
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See more Expert Answers
- Dry mouth. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/oralhealth/topics/drymouth/drymouth.htm. Accessed April 6, 2023.
- Merck Manual Professional Version. Xerostomia. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dental_disorders/symptoms_of_dental_and_oral_disorders/xerostomia.html. Accessed April 6, 2023.
- Baer AN, et al. Treatment of dry mouth and other nonocular sicca symptoms in Sjogren's syndrome. https://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 6, 2023.
- Xerostomia. The American Academy of Oral Medicine. https://www.aaom.com/. Accessed April 6, 2023.
- Your top nine questions about going to the dentist — answered. American Dental Association. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/dental-care-concerns/questions-about-going-to-the-dentist. Accessed April 19, 2023.
- Pham KL, et al. Oral diseases and oral manifestations of gastrointestinal and liver diseases. In: Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology, Diagnosis, Management. 11th ed. Elsevier; 2021. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed April 6, 2023.
- Xerostomia (dry mouth). American Dental Association. https://www.ada.org/. Accessed April 6, 2023.
- Dry mouth. The American Academy of Oral Medicine. https://www.aaom.com/. Accessed April 6, 2023.
- Nathan, CA, et al. Current management of xerostomia in head and neck cancer patients. American Journal of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Medicine and Surgery. 2023; doi:10.1016/j.amjoto.2023.103867.