If you’ve ever experienced dry mouth — even for a short while — you know it can be very uncomfortable.
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A number of things can cause this problem, but certain medications, infections, dehydration, as well as cancer treatments are the most common causes.
Some medications, radiation and chemotherapy can actually damage the salivary glands, leaving you to deal with the result: dry mouth.
Untreated dry mouth can damage oral health
Left untreated, dry mouth, which doctors call xerostomia, can lead to various problems, including:
Over time, you may experience changes in taste, difficulty swallowing, and in some cases, speech changes,” says family medicine physician Neha Vyas, MD.
You may also notice cracks and cuts on your lips at the corners of your mouth, or you could experience a burning sensation on your tongue.
“Dry mouth usually resolves on its own one to two months after completing chemotherapy, but it can last six months to a year after radiation to the head and neck,” says Dr. Vyas.
Tips for relieving dry mouth
Regardless of the cause of your dry mouth, it’s important to do something about it. Dr. Vyas suggests the following:
- Stay hydrated. Drink sips of water throughout the day. Ensure you stay hydrated by drinking at least eight to 12 glasses of water daily, unless your doctor advises against it for some reason.
- Chew gum or suck on hard candy. Chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugar-free hard candy seems to help some people. Make sure it’s sugar-free, though.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine and acidic juices. This means you should stay away from that daily coffee or latte and juices made from citrus fruits as well as that glass of wine in the evening. Watch out for hidden alcohol, too, in things like mouthwashes.
- Moisten your food. Moisten all dry foods with broth, sauces, milk or melted butter. Since your salivary glands aren’t producing enough saliva, this will make it easier to chew and swallow.
- Don’t smoke or use chewing tobacco. In addition to the negative impacts these have on your general health, smoking and chewing tobacco can worsen dry mouth.
- Use a humidifier. Use a humidifier at night, especially in winter, to help moisten the ambient air while you sleep.
- Brush your teeth after each meal. Soften your toothbrush in a cup of warm water, so it’s gentler on your gums. Make sure to brush after each meal and at bedtime. Dr. Vyas also recommends using a fluoride rinse to prevent tooth decay if you are undergoing radiation treatments.
- Talk to your doctor. Your doctor can tell you about products specifically designed to treat dry mouth. Many of these are available over the counter, such as Biotene® products and Oralbalance® moisturizing gel. There are also prescription medications that act as a saliva substitute and others that stimulate the salivary glands to produce more saliva.
Visit your doctor if these treatments do not relieve your discomfort, or if you suspect you may have an infection of the mouth.
Biotene® and Oralbalance® are registered trademarks of the GlaxoSmithKline group of companies.