Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)

What is dry mouth?

Dry mouth or xerostomia is a health condition where the body’s salivary glands can not produce enough saliva to keep the mouth moist. Saliva is necessary for chewing, swallowing, tasting, and talking. A dry mouth can make these activities difficult or uncomfortable.

Dry mouth is a side effect of certain cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy.

How bad is my dry mouth?

Mild: You may have thick saliva and sore throat. Other symptoms are frequently feeling thirsty and needing more fluid to swallow food.

Moderate: Your may have red or swollen mouth; dry or cracked lips, a hoarse voice or a cough, dry eyes, nose or corners of the mouth and mouth ulcers. It requires immediate treatment under your doctor’s supervision.

Severe: Urgent medical attention is needed if you have difficulty in chewing, swallowing or talking for more than a week. You may also experience loss of taste, abnormal weight loss and fatigue.

How to manage mild dry mouth?

Keep track of dry mouth using Ankr (myAnkr web portal or the Ankr app). It will help you describe the discomfort to your doctor or nurse.

  • Saliva substitutes and mouth rinses.
  • Sucking on sugar-free candy or chewing sugar-free gum.
  • Medicines (pilocarpine or cevimeline) that stimulate the salivary glands.
  • Acupuncture after radiation therapy in people with head and neck cancer.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) of the salivary glands after radiation therapy in people with head and neck cancer.
How to manage moderate and severe dry mouth?

Make an appointment to see a doctor or dentist if you have ongoing symptoms:

  • Dry feeling in mouth or throat
  • Thick saliva
  • Rough tongue
  • Mouth sores
  • Trouble chewing or swallowing
  • Altered sense of taste that doesn’t go away
  • Bad breath that doesn’t improve with good dental hygiene
What causes dry mouth?
  • Antidepressants
  • Radiation and chemotherapy
  • Medicines called diuretics, which increase urination
  • Some pain medications
  • Medications that prevent nausea and vomiting
  • A mouth infection
  • Dehydration
  • Bone marrow/ stem cell transplant

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