Questions and Answers About Dry Mouth

Brenna Brown, PharmD, BCOP
Published Online: Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Almost everyone has experienced dry mouth at some point. For some people, however, it can become a long-term problem. The clinical name for dry mouth is xerostomia (ZEE-roe-STOE-mee-uh), which is a subjective feeling of dryness in the mouth. It can occur when the glands in the mouth and throat that make saliva?the salivary glands?do not make enough of it. Lack of saliva can lead to an increased risk of:

  • Dental cavities
  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Changes in taste
  • Difficulty in chewing and swallowing foods

What Can Cause a Dry Mouth?

Many things can cause a dry mouth. Temporary dry mouth can be caused by nervousness, stress, or excessive talking or singing. These situations do not typically lead to long-term problems, although they can be uncomfortable to deal with. Chronic Dry Mouth, which can lead to more severe complications, can be caused by:

?Medications: Hundreds of medications can cause Dry Mouth. Some of the most common include medicines for allergy, high blood pressure, and pain, and antidepressants and diuretics.

?Chemotherapy and radiation therapy: Cancer therapy can decrease the amount of saliva produced. Radiation therapy to the head and neck can damage the salivary glands, leading to chronic complications.

?Diseases: Certain medical conditions are associated with Dry Mouth, such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, and Sjogren's syndrome (a condition characterized by dry mouth and eyes).

?Nerve damage: Trauma to the head and neck can damage the nerves that tell the salivary glands to make saliva.

How Do You Protect Your Mouth from Dry Mouth Complications?

Mouth care is very important, especially to help reduce the risk of cavities associated with Dry Mouth. Mouth care recommendations are:

  • Rinsing mouth immediately after eating;
  • Brushing teeth with a fluoride toothpaste after each meal and at bedtime;
  • Rinsing mouth with salt and baking soda solution 4 to 6 times daily (1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp baking soda in 8 oz of water);
  • Avoiding the use of mouthwashes containing alcohol;
  • Using a moisturizing lip balm;
  • Breathing through your nose rather than your mouth.

How Can You Manage a Dry Mouth?

Many options exist to help manage a dry mouth. These range from diet changes to prescription medications. Diet changes may include:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids?at least 3 quarts daily;
  • Avoiding alcohol, because alcohol can make your mouth drier;
  • Taking sips of fluids between bites while eating;
  • Sucking on sugar-free hard candy;
  • Chewing sugar-free gum;
  • Eating soft foods or foods pureed in a blender;
  • Moistening dry foods with broth, melted butter, gravy, sauces;
  • Avoiding foods and drinks with high sugar content. Prescription medications used to treat Dry Mouth include:
  • Pilocarpine (Salagen)
  • Cevimeline HCI (Evoxac)
  • Amifostine (Ethyol)
  • Betaine (Cystadane)
  • Pantoprazole (Protonix)

Most over-the-counter remedies to relieve the symptoms of dry mouth work by imitating saliva. These products are often referred to as saliva substitutes, and they include Salivart, SalivaSure, and Mouth Kote. Another product used to relieve dry mouth symptoms is Oasis Moisturizing Mouth Spray. Products that help manage a dry mouth come in a variety of forms, ranging from mouthwashes to sprays to lozenges. These products are easy to find in your local pharmacy and are outlined below:

Oasis

Oasis is available as a Moisturizing Mouthwash and Mouth Spray. Product claims include:

  • Helps manage the symptoms of dry mouth for up to 2 hours
  • Moisturizes the mouth, locks in moisture, and helps protect from dryness
  • Helps prevent dry mouth symptoms for up to 2 hours
  • Moisturizes the mouth by locking in moisture and protecting from dryness
  • Sugar-free and alcohol-free
  • Mild mint-flavored
  • Does not harm tooth enamel

Biotene

Biotene is available as a mouthwash, moisturizing gel, toothpaste, gum, moisturizing liquid, and denture grip. Product claims include:

  • Salivary enzyme product that protects the mouth, similar to actual saliva
  • Alcohol-free and antibacterial
  • Contains xylitol, which is a sweetener that may decrease bacteria growth in mouth

Salivart

Salivart is available as a moisturizing spray. Product claims include:

  • Provides immediate moistening action
  • Alcohol-free and glycerin-free

SalivaSure

SalivaSure is available as lozenges. Product claims include:

  • Increases saliva by stimulating taste buds
  • Moisturizes mouth and freshens breath
  • Contains xylitol

Mouth Kote

Mouth Kote is available as a moisturizing spray. Product claims include:

  • Contains natural product from the Yerba Santa plant that mimics natural saliva
  • Moisturizes and protects mouth tissue

Nature's Answer PerioWash

Nature's Answer PerioWash is available as a mouthwash. Product claims include:

  • Moistens mouth and freshens breath
  • Contains Echinacea, Green Tea, and Olive Leaf to promote healthy gums
  • Also contains clove, peppermint, oregano, and thyme

Omni Oral Care products with xylitol

Omni Oral Care products are available as a moisturizing spray, lozenges, and gum. Product claims include:

  • Stimulates saliva
  • Contains Microdent, a plaque reduction agent (TheraSpray)
  • Decreases bad breath

Orajel Dry Mouth

Orajel Dry Mouth is available as a moisturizing spray, gel, and toothpaste. Product claims include:

  • Contains glycerin to promote longer-lasting moisturizing effects

Signs of Problem Dry Mouth Can Include:

  • Dry or sticky feeling in mouth
  • Halitosis or bad breath
  • Burning feeling in mouth
  • Cracked lips
  • Dry, irritated tongue
  • Mouth sores
  • Difficulty wearing dentures
  • Difficulty in swallowing

Dr. Brown is assistant professor of pharmacy practice at Palm Beach Atlantic University, Lloyd L. Gregory School of Pharmacy,West Palm Beach, Fla, and clinical oncology specialist at Lynn Regional Cancer Center West, Boca Raton, Fla.




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