Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)

What is dry mouth?

Dry mouth or xerostomia happens when the body’s salivary glands can not produce enough saliva or spit, to keep the mouth moist. Saliva is needed 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: Symptomatic (e.g., dry or thick saliva) without significant dietary alteration; unstimulated saliva flow >0.2

Moderate: Moderate symptoms; oral intake alterations (e.g., copious water, other lubricants, a diet limited to
purees and/or soft, moist foods); unstimulated saliva 0.1 to 0.2 ml/min

Severe: Inability to adequately aliment orally; tube feeding or TPN indicated; unstimulated saliva <0.1 ml/min

How to manage mild dry mouth?
  • 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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