Dry Mouth - What is it? Do I have it?

Updated: Dec 20, 2018


Dry mouth, also called Xerostomia, is the medical condition of not having enough saliva, or spit, to keep the mouth wet. Dry mouth can happen to anyone occasionally—for example, when nervous or stressed. However, when dry mouth persists, it can make chewing, eating, swallowing and even talking difficult. Dry mouth can also increase the risk for tooth decay and gum disease (gingivitis) because saliva helps keep at bay, harmful germs that cause cavities and other oral infections.

It is actually more common than you may think, affecting around one in five elderly people.

Some people mistake thirst for dry mouth, but the causes are different.


There are several causes of dry mouth:

  • Side effects of certain medications. Dry mouth is a common side effect of some prescription and non-prescription drugs.

  • Side effects of certain medical conditions, for example Sjögren's syndrome, and infections.

  • Side effect of certain medical treatments. Damage to the salivary glands, the glands that produce saliva, for example, from radiation to the head and neck and chemotherapy treatments for cancer, can reduce the amount of saliva produced.

  • Nerve damage. Dry mouth can be a result of nerve damage to the head and neck area from an injury or surgery.

  • Dehydration. Conditions that lead to dehydration, such as fever, excessive sweating, vomiting, diarrhoea, blood loss and burns can cause dry mouth.

  • Surgical removal of the salivary glands.

  • Lifestyle. Smoking, or chewing tobacco can affect saliva production and aggravate dry mouth. Continuously breathing with your mouth open can also contribute to the problem.

How do I know if I’ve got dry mouth?

  • Other Common symptoms of dry mouth include: A sticky, dry feeling in the mouth

  • Frequent thirst

  • Sores in the mouth; sores or split skin at the corners of the mouth; cracked lips

  • A dry feeling in the throat

  • A burning or tingling sensation in the mouth and especially on the tongue

  • A dry, red, raw tongue

  • Problems speaking or difficulty tasting, chewing, and swallowing

  • Hoarseness, dry nasal passages, sore throat

  • Bad breath

How do I get dry mouth treated?


If you think your dry mouth is caused by certain medication you are taking, talk to your doctor.


Your dentist or hygienist will be able to give you advice about your diet and tell you how to care for your teeth and gums properly, such as protecting your teeth by brushing with a fluoride toothpaste and using a flouride rinse.


Because you have a higher risk of tooth decay and gum disease with dry mouth, and because these can get worse more quickly than usual, it is important to visit your dentist regularly. Your dentist will tell you how often you should visit.


For more information on oral health, see our other blogs on www.smileabout.co.uk.


For further information or advice contact College Street Dental Centre in Petersfield, Hampshire on 01730 263180

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