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Dry mouth (xerostomia)

A dry mouth (or xerostomia) happens when you don’t produce enough saliva.

A range of medical conditions, medications (such as blood pressure or antidepressant medications), dehydration and smoking can cause dry mouth.

Saliva is important to your mouth’s health. It lubricates your mouth and assists with your speech, taste and chewing. It also washes your teeth providing minerals for repair, and helps prevent bacteria, viruses and fungi from causing infections, tooth decay and gum disease.

Symptoms of dry mouth

Symptoms of dry mouth may include discomfort and difficulty with speech chewing and swallowing.

Speak to your doctor if you think your medication is causing a dry mouth, as there may be other options.

To help your dry mouth

  • sip plain tap water frequently, and avoid fruit juices, cordial, soft, sports and energy drinks
  • chew sugar free gum to help stimulate saliva flow and neutralise the acid in your mouth use a saliva substitute
  • use a toothpaste, mouthwash or antibacterial gel suitable for use with a dry mouth – Biotene dry mouth toothpaste, toothpaste for sensitive teeth, and junior toothpastes all help to relieve symptoms of a dry mouth
  • if you’re a smoker, think about quitting – call the Quitline.

If you have burning or soreness in your mouth

  • avoid food and drinks that may cause a burning sensation, such as tomatoes, citrus fruits, citrus juices, alcohol, spicy foods and foods with sharp edges (crackers and chips)
  • rinse your mouth with plain tap water after eating to remove food debris
  • your dentist may suggest using a numbing gel
  • use mouth rinses or throat gargles –try those with anti-inflammatory or anaesthetic action that are alcohol free
  • smear your mouth with vitamin E gel
  • avoid toothpastes that cause discomfort (try Biotene dry mouth toothpaste or a children’s toothpaste)
  • If you experience a burning sensation in your mouth, check with your dentist to see if you have an infection.

For dry and cracked lips

Apply lip balm, preferably with SPF 30+ sunblock

Note: any persistent sores on your lips should be reported to your dentist or doctor.

A dry mouth increases the risk of dental decay and gum disease

Follow these simple steps to help keep your teeth and gums healthy:

  • gently brush your teeth and gums morning and night using a small soft toothbrush and a pea sized amount of fluoride toothpaste
  • spit the toothpaste out, but don’t rinse
  • replace your toothbrush regularly
  • eat fresh fruit and savoury foods between meals
  • avoid sugary drinks and foods between meals
  • plain tap water is the best drink for your teeth
  • chew sugar free gum
  • use fluoride mouthrinses and gels – your dentist may suggest using a fluoride mouthrinse or applying a small amount of fluoride gel to your teeth on a toothbrush or in a specially made tray for extra protection
  • use tooth mousse – it helps protect your teeth from rapid enamel loss and keeps your mouth feeling moist – your dentist will advise you on availability.

Caution: products containing fluoride (such as gels and fluoride rinses) should not be swallowed and must be kept out of reach of children.

Thrush

You may experience thrush (candidiasis) with your dry mouth. Thrush may appear as white spots or a red area inside your mouth.

Try eating natural yoghurt daily or use Nilstat/Mycostatin oral drops – ask your dentist, doctor or pharmacist for advice.

Dentures can aggravate thrush, so try soaking them for 30 minutes in diluted Milton’s solution. Rinse with water before wearing.

Note: if your thrush persists, or your mouth splits and bleeds, see your dentist.

Denture care

Rinse your dentures after meals, and brush daily with a soft brush and mild soap. Don’t use toothpaste – it’s abrasive and may cause wear to your dentures.

Place your dentures in cold water at night and when they are not in your mouth. If your dentures are stained, a small amount of vinegar or bleach may be added to the water. Rinse with water before wearing.

Dentures should fit well to maintain the health of your mouth. It may help to add a small amount of denture adhesive (available from your chemist) to the fitting surface of the denture.

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