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Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)

Drawing of mouth with desert and sunWhat is Dry Mouth?

Dry mouth, also called xerostomia (ZEER-oh-STOH-mee-ah), is the 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 also increases the risk for tooth decay because saliva helps keep harmful germs that cause cavities and other oral infections in check.

Causes

Dry mouth occurs when the salivary glands that make saliva don't work properly.  Many over-the-counter and prescription medicines, as well as diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease and Sjogren's syndrome, can affect the salivary glands.  Other causes of dry mouth include certain cancer treatments and damage to the glands' nerve system.  It's important to see your dentist or physician to find out why your mouth is dry.

Treatment

Depending on the cause of your dry mouth, your health care provider can recommend appropriate treatment. There are also self-care steps you can take to help ease dry mouth, such as drinking plenty of water, chewing sugarless gum, and avoiding tobacco and alcohol.  Good oral care at home and regular dental check-ups will help keep your mouth healthy.

Health Information

For patients

  • Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)
    This patient brochure discusses the causes of dry mouth, the importance of saliva to oral health, and steps to follow to relieve dryness. 
  • NIHSeniorHealth: Dry Mouth
    A website from the NIH National Institute on Aging, featuring health and wellness information for older adults.  
  • MedlinePlus:  Dry Mouth
    The NIH National Library of Medicine's compilation of links to government, professional and non-profit/voluntary organizations with information on dry mouth. 

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This page last updated: February 06, 2014