Path to Dysphagia Diagnosis
  • Carinda Stout, MS CCC/SLP

Saliva: A Closer Look

We all need saliva to moisten and cleanse our mouths and digest food. Saliva also prevents infection by controlling bacteria and fungi in the mouth. When you don't make enough saliva, your mouth becomes dry and uncomfortable. Fortunately, many treatments can help against dry mouth.



What Causes Dry Mouth?

  • Side effect of certain medications. Dry mouth is a common side effect of many prescription and nonprescription drugs, including drugs used to treat depression, anxiety, pain, allergies, and colds (antihistamines and decongestants), obesity, acne, epilepsy, hypertension (diuretics), diarrhea, nausea, psychotic disorders, urinary incontinence, asthma (certain bronchodilators), and Parkinson's disease. Dry mouth can also be a side effect of muscle relaxants and sedatives.

  • Side effect of certain diseases and infections. Dry mouth can be a side effect of medical conditions, including Sjögren's syndrome, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, anemia, cystic fibrosis, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, Parkinson's disease, stroke, and mumps.

  • Side effect of certain medical treatments. Damage to the salivary glands, the glands that make saliva, can reduce the amount of saliva produced. For example, the damage could stem from radiation to the head and neck, and chemotherapy treatments for cancer.

  • Nerve damage. Dry mouth can be a result of nerve damage to the head and neck area from an injury or surgery.

  • Dehydration. Conditions that lead to dehydration, such as fever, excessive sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, blood loss, and burns can cause dry mouth.

  • Surgical removal of the salivary glands.

  • Lifestyle. Smoking or chewing tobacco can affect how much saliva you make and aggravate dry mouth. Breathing with your mouth open a lot can also contribute to the problem.

What Are the Symptoms of Dry Mouth? Common symptoms include:

  • A sticky, dry feeling in the mouth

  • Frequent thirst

  • Sores in the mouth; sores or split skin at the corners of the mouth; cracked lips

  • Dry feeling in the throat

  • Burning or tingling sensation in the mouth and especially on the tongue

  • Dry, red, raw tongue

  • Problems speaking or trouble tasting, chewing, and swallowing

  • Hoarseness, dry nasal passages, sore throat

  • Bad breath

Besides causing the symptoms mentioned above, dry mouth also raises your risk of gingivitis (gum disease), tooth decay, and mouth infections, such as thrush. Dry mouth can also make it hard to wear dentures. Remedies For Dry Mouth:

  1. 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.

  2. Suck on sugar-free hard candies, ice chips, or sugar-free popsicles. Chew sugarless gum (gums containing xylitol). These sucking and chewing actions help stimulate saliva flow.

  3. Moisten foods with broths, soups, sauces, gravy, creams, and butter or margarine. Eat soft, moist foods that are cool or at room temperature.

  4. Avoid commercial mouth rinses or mouthwashes that contain alcohol or peroxide. These ingredients will further dry out your mouth.

  5. 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.

  6. Avoid drinks containing alcohol or caffeine (for example: coffees, teas, some colas, chocolate-containing drinks). Alcohol increases water loss by triggering frequent urination. Alcohol and caffeine dry out the mouth. Also avoid acidic beverages, such as juice (orange, apple, grape, grapefruit and tomato juice).

  7. 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 dry mouth are also available; ask your dentist or doctor about these products.

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