What are the treatments for dry mouth?
Treatment for dry mouth depends on what is causing the problem. Generally, treatment of a dry mouth focuses on three areas:
- Managing underlying medical conditions causing the dry mouth
- Preventing tooth decay
- Increasing the flow of saliva, if possible
Managing underlying medical conditions
If dry mouth is caused by a health-related situation that can be changed, your dentist or doctor will consider making a change. For example, dry mouth is a common side effect of drugs used to treat depression and anxiety, pain, allergies (antihistamines and decongestants), diarrhea, urinary incontinence, hypertension and Parkinson's disease. If you take drugs for any of these conditions, your dentist or doctor may change your medication or adjust the dosage.
However, if the underlying medical condition causing the dry mouth cannot be changed, treatment will focus on ways to increase saliva flow. For example, dry mouth can be caused from the treatment itself (eg, damage to salivary glands from radiation or chemotherapy treatments) or be a consequence of a disease itself (eg, Sjögren's syndrome, Alzheimer's disease, stroke).
Preventing tooth decay
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, you need to pay extra attention to 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 check-up and cleaning at least twice a year. At your visit, your dentist may recommend daily use of a fluoride rinse or fluoride gel to keep your teeth healthy.
Increasing the flow of saliva
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 individuals with dry mouth are also available. Ask your dentist or doctor about these products.
Your healthcare provider may also prescribe Salagen®, a drug that increases the natural production of saliva.
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 your dry mouth condition:
- 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. Chew sugarless gum (gums containing the sugar xylitol). These sucking and chewing actions help stimulate saliva flow.
- 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:
- Cut back on eating spicy or salty foods. These may cause pain in a dry mouth.
- Quit smoking.
- Apply a moisturizer on your lips to reduce 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.