How to Cope With Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)

Dry mouth, known medically as xerostomia, is something that most people have experienced at some time. If you wake up in the morning with a dry mouth and a quick glass of water solves the problem, then it’s easy to cope with. But what if it’s a chronic problem which is there all the time?

A dry mouth is annoying and uncomfortable but if it is a chronic problem, it can become very painful and lead to other problems.

How to cope with dry mouth. Illustration of an open mouth

As well as helping us to talk, taste, chew and swallow, saliva has an important job. Enzymes in the saliva help to break down food which aids digestion. As well as this, saliva neutralises acids and helps to keep the tongue, teeth and gums clean and healthy. Therefore, when dry mouth is a chronic problem, sufferers are more prone to developing gum disease and tooth decay.

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Symptoms of Dry Mouth

Having a dry mouth means there is no or very little saliva or the saliva can be thick and stringy.

Problems of having dry mouth can include:

  • difficulty chewing and swallowing food
  • a painful, cracked or burning tongue
  • a dry or sore throat
  • difficulty talking
  • a hoarse voice
  • bad breath
  • oral thrush
  • mouth sores
  • strange or no taste
  • painful cracked lips
  • problems if you wear dentures
  • longterm, it can cause gum disease and tooth decay

What Can Cause Dry Mouth?

Dry mouth is a fairly common problem amongst people who live with pain or chronic illness because it’s often a side effect of medication. However, it can also be a symptom of certain health conditions, therefore it’s important to tell your doctor if dry mouth is a common problem. Often people think that a dry mouth is a trivial problem, therefore they don’t mention it to their doctors. But it’s actually a vital piece of information to a doctor.

Some common reasons for having a dry mouth:

  • dehydration
  • certain health conditions (eg Sjogrens and diabetes)
  • nerve damage
  • ageing
  • medication (eg painkillers, antidepressants and anticonvulsants)
  • cold and flu remedies
  • cancer treatments
  • smoking
  • alcohol
  • snoring
  • using recreational drugs
  • nerves and anxiety
Black and white image of water being poured into a glass, with ice cubes lying at the front.

Tips To Help You Cope With Dry Mouth

There are some things which are worth trying to avoid as they can cause or worsen dry mouth. There are also many specially formulated products for dry mouth which could help you to cope with the problem.

What You Should Avoid if You Have Dry Mouth

If your medication is the cause, talk to your doctor about it because they may be able to prescribe something more suitable. Unfortunately, sometimes there might be no suitable alternative, therefore, you can’t avoid taking it.

There are, however, some things which you can avoid:

  • alcohol
  • smoking
  • caffeine
  • recreational drugs
  • dry, salty, sugary, spicy or acidic food or drinks
  • any mouthwashes which contain alcohol or peroxide

Coping with Oral Hygiene and Dental Health

Visit your dentist regularly for check ups.

To help avoid tooth decay due to dry mouth, clean your teeth with a fluoride-based toothpaste at least twice a day. Try to also brush after eating sugary or acidic food.

Use toothpaste and mouthwashes which have been specially formulated for dry mouth and are free from alcohol. Also, speak to your dentist about your dry mouth. They might be able to prescribe you with an extra-strong fluoride toothpaste which will give added protection.

Sprays and Gels for Dry Mouth

Dry mouth sprays and gels can bring relief and can help to overcome the difficulties with talking and eating.

Gum and Sweets for Dry Mouth

Chewing sugar-free gum or sucking sugar-free boiled sweets can help to stimulate saliva.

Dry Cracked Lips

There are lots of products you can buy which could help dry lips.

If you wear lipstick, avoid matte types as they can dry your lips further. Instead, use a lipstick with a moisturising base or a tinted lip balm.

Snoring

If snoring is a problem, you might be starting every day off with an uncomfortable dry mouth. Therefore, it’s worth looking into products which might help.

Coping With Eating When You Have Dry Mouth

Opt for soup or food cooked with sauces and ensure you have a drink by your side while eating. If the problem is really bad, use a dry mouth spray before eating.

Don’t Become Dehydrated

This might sound too obvious, but I’ll mention it anyway – drink more water. Don’t drink a litre in one sitting but, instead, sip water throughout the day. Fill a glass and keep it by your side so you don’t forget to drink it. Or, better still, use a reusable water bottle which you can take with you wherever you go.

(I want to add here that although it’s important to drink enough water throughout the day, it can be dangerous to drink too much. The implications of that are discussed in this post by Caz from Invisibly Me.)

I love reusable water bottles because, for me, they are much more convenient than using a glass. I keep one in the living room and another next to my bed. It means there’s always water by my side, therefore, I don’t forget to drink. And, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a wee bit clumsy. I don’t know how many times I’ve dropped and broken glasses full of water. But if I drop one of these reusable bottles, there are no breakages or spills to clean up.

They’re also great if you have pets. We used to have a cat and a dog. The cat was even clumsier than me. Actually, I think her actions were intentional rather than accidental as she seemed to take pleasure in knocking things over. And our dog, an extremely happy labrador, wagged his tail with such great gusto that he could send anything flying into tomorrow.

Their hair seemed to land everywhere, including into glasses of water or mugs of tea. I loved my gorgeous furkids to bits but I really wasn’t very keen on drinking their hair! Since the reusable bottles are covered, the water stays fresh, clean and free of pet hair.

Watercolour image of lips. Title below says How to cope with dry mouth

I hope some of these tips help you to cope with your dry mouth. But, please, do speak to your doctor if your dry mouth is a persistent problem just in case it’s caused by a medical issue.

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6 thoughts on “How to Cope With Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)

  1. This is brilliant, Liz. It’s the first post I recall seeing about dry mouth actually.

    I’d been rather silly for quite some time, mistaking dry mouth for thirst and not realising how incredibly dangerous it was given the level of water I was drinking. Looking back, I was very lucky on the day when it all came to a head and I could have died. I had no idea it could have been dry mouth rather than thirst so it’s a great point to cover in this post. I have connective tissue disease (and it’s likely Sjogrens explains these issues) that’s led to try eyes, nose and mouth, and it’s led to damage with my teeth and gums, too. The damage the dentist was highlighting was a mystery, until I realised I wasn’t thirsty, it was dry mouth, and then things start to slot into place and make sense.

    I’ve been working on more than halving water intake as it was over 7L p/day and it’s been surprisingly difficult. I’ve tried sweets and chewing gum, but I’ll have to look into some kind of spray or gel like you mention here. I also didn’t realise there were toothpastes and mouthwashes specifically for dry mouth so thank you for the heads up, I’ll have to investigate. I’m absolutely with you on the wonders of reusable water bottles. I can also just imagine your old cat and dog knocking off everything in sight and sending hair through the air just in time for you to sit down with your cuppa 😆 xx

    1. Wow! 7 litres of water a day – no wonder you were ill. Most people don’t drink enough water, but drinking too much is possibly even more dangerous.
      Hopefully, you can find something to help. I think one of the biggest culprits for making it worse is normal mouthwash. The tablets and sprays really can help make it more comfortable.
      I always think that we put up with things like this thinking it’s too trivial a problem. But it’s not really trivial.

      1. You’re right, it can seem trivial. ‘Oh it’s just a bit of a dry mouth’, and yet it’s really not ‘just’ that at all. So normal mouthwashes can make this worse for you? I had no idea. Have you found a mouthwash that helps the dryness or at lease doesn’t make it worse? I’m now thinking about the stock of mouthwash I’ve got in the cupboard and wishing I hadn’t bought them all on offer! 😆 I’ll have to investigate tablets and sprays for xerostomia. I hope you’ve found some that can relieve the issue a little.xx

        1. It’s the alcohol in the mouthwashes that’s the problem. So any that are alcohol free are good. I like Corsodyl, because dentists have recommended that for gum problems. But any without alcohol are good. Health food shops normally stock them too. I’ve also made my own at times using essential oils. Tea tree oil has good antibacterial properties.

  2. Rachael Tomlinson

    Thank you for this post Liz, it’s something I am suffering from since starting sertraline. They are working though so I am hoping it goes off, eventually. I will try the spray though and see if that helps xx

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