Dry mouth can be incredibly uncomfortable, even if you’ve only experienced it for a short while.
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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, according to family medicine physician Neha Vyas, MD.
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:
- Halitosis (bad breath).
- Yeast infections.
- Gingivitis (gum disease).
- Improper denture fit.
Over time, you may experience changes in taste, difficulty swallowing, and in some cases, speech changes. 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. Keep a water bottle handy next to you at all times so you can quickly take a sip (or a few!)
- Chew gum or suck on hard candy. Chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugar-free hard candy helps some people. Make sure it’s sugar-free, though, to avoid calorie and carb overload.
- 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, since they hide 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. Quitting smoking is one of the most important things you can do to not only help your dry mouth, but your overall health.
- 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. Use 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 in the mouth.