Managing Underlying Causes of Dry Mouth
If dry mouth is caused by something like medication -- it is a common side effect of drugs used to treat depression, anxiety, pain, allergies (antihistamines and decongestants), diarrhea, urinary incontinence, and Parkinson's disease -- your dentist or doctor will consider making a change. That may mean trying a different medication or adjusting the dosage.
However, if the underlying medical condition causing the dry mouth cannot be changed - for example, if the salivary gland has been damaged from radiation or chemotherapy treatments or is a consequence of a disease itself (for example, Sjögren's syndrome, Alzheimer's disease, stroke) treatment will focus on ways to increase saliva flow (see below).
Preventing Tooth Decay Due to Dry Mouth
Not only does saliva help digest food and make it possible for you to chew and swallow, it is the natural mouth cleanser. Without saliva, tooth decay and gum disease are more likely to occur. If you have a dry mouth, to combat tooth decay and gum disease, you need to be extra careful about following good oral hygiene habits, which consist of:
- Brushing your teeth at least twice a day, but even more preferably, after every meal and before bedtime
- Flossing your teeth every day
- Using a toothpaste that contains fluoride
- Visiting your dentist for a checkup and cleaning at least twice a year; your dentist may recommend daily use of a fluoride rinse or fluoride gel to keep your teeth healthy.
Learn more about tooth decay
Increasing the Flow of Saliva With Dry Mouth
If you have dry mouth, your dentist or doctor may recommend the use of artificial saliva products. These products are available over-the-counter in a rinse or spray. Toothpastes, mouthwashes, and moisturizing gels that are specially formulated for dry mouth are also available; ask your dentist or doctor about these products.
Another prescription drug, Evoxac, is FDA-approved for the treatment of dry mouth in people with Sjögren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease associated with dry eyes, dry mouth, dry skin, and muscle pain.
Finally, there are promising new treatments under investigation. Scientists are working on ways to repair salivary glands that have been damaged and are developing an artificial salivary gland that can be implanted into the body.
What Can I Do to Manage Dry Mouth?
To minimize dry mouth:
- Drink water frequently to keep your mouth moist and loosen mucus. Carry water with you to sip throughout the day and keep water by your bed at night.
- Suck on sugar-free hard candies, ice chips, or sugar-free popsicles. But never chew ice since it can be extremely damaging to your teeth. Chew sugarless gum (gums containing xylitol). These sucking and chewing actions help stimulate saliva flow. But also keep in mind that even though they don't have sugar, candies, popsicles and gum may soften your teeth's enamel. To reduce the risk of cavities and tooth wear, use them only in moderation.
- Moisten foods with broths, soups, sauces, gravy, creams, and butter or margarine. Eat soft, moist foods that are cool or at room temperature.
- Avoid commercial mouth rinses or mouthwashes that contain alcohol or peroxide. These ingredients will further dry out your mouth.
- Avoid salty foods, dry foods (for example, crackers, toast, cookies, dry breads, dry meats/poultry/fish, dried fruit, bananas) and foods and beverages with high sugar content.
- Avoid drinks containing alcohol or caffeine (for example, coffees, teas, some colas, chocolate-containing drinks). Alcohol increases water loss by triggering frequent urination. Alcohol, as well as caffeine, also dries out the mouth. Also avoid acidic beverages, such as any fruit juices (orange, apple, grape, grapefruit) and tomato juice.
Other tips to reduce irritation associated with dry mouth include:
- Minimize your intake of spicy or salty foods as these may cause pain in a dry mouth.
- Quit smoking.
- Use a moisturizer on your lips to minimize irritation.
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush on your teeth and gums; rinse your mouth before and after meals with plain water or a mild mouth rinse (made with 8 ounces of water, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon baking soda). Brush with a fluoride-containing toothpaste.
- Use a humidifier to increase the humidity in your home, especially at night.