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Dry Mouth

Patients & Caregivers

Dry mouth (xerostomia) is the feeling that there is not enough saliva in the mouth. It can also be a sign of certain diseases and conditions. Without enough saliva you can form tooth decay or other infections in the mouth. You also might not get the nutrients you need if you cannot chew and swallow certain foods. So, if you are experiencing dry mouth or think you have dry mouth, see your dentist or physician—there are things you can do to get relief.


Signs and symptoms of dry mouth (xerostomia)


  • a sticky, dry feeling in the mouth

  • trouble chewing, swallowing, tasting, or speaking

  • a burning feeling in the mouth

  • a dry feeling in the throat

  • cracked lips

  • a dry, rough tongue

  • mouth sores

  • an infection in the mouth

People get dry mouth when the glands in the mouth that make saliva are not working properly. There are several reasons why these glands (called salivary glands) might not work right: 

  • Side effects of some medicines. More than 400 medicines can cause the salivary glands to make less saliva. For example, medicines for high blood pressure and depression often cause dry mouth. 

  • Disease. Some diseases affect the salivary glands. For example, Sjögren’s syndrome, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and Hepatitis C can all cause dry mouth.

  • Radiation therapy. The salivary glands can be damaged if they are exposed to radiation during cancer treatment.

  • Chemotherapy. Drugs used to treat cancer can cause swelling and damage in the salivary glands and cause the glands to make less saliva or make saliva thicker. As a result, the mouth feels dry.

  •  Nerve Damage. Injury to the head or neck can damage the nerves that tell salivary glands to make saliva.


  • Dry mouth treatment will depend on what is causing the problem. 

  • If your dry mouth is caused by medicine, your doctor might change your prescription or adjust the dosage. 

  • If your salivary glands are not working right but can still produce some saliva, your doctor or dentist might give you a medicine that helps the glands work better. 

  • Your doctor might suggest you use artificial saliva to keep your mouth wet.

Symptom Relief

  • Drink plenty of water (8 to 12 eight-ounce glasses a day).

  • Avoid drinks with caffeine, such as coffee, tea, and some sodas. Caffeine can dry out the mouth.

  • Sip water or a sugarless drink during meals. This will make chewing and swallowing easier. It may also improve the taste of food.

  • Chew sugarless gum or suck on sugarless hard candy to stimulate saliva flow; citrus, cinnamon, or mint-flavored candies are good choices. Some sugarless chewing gums and candies contain xylitol and may help prevent cavities.

  • Don’t use tobacco or alcohol. They dry out the mouth.

  • Be aware that spicy or salty foods may cause pain or a burning sensation in a dry mouth.

  • Use a humidifier at night.

The above information came from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research

To download a pamphlet, click on the links below:


For more information about dry mouth, see these resources:


You may also wish to read about:


More information regarding the following topics coming soon:

  • Importance of Good Oral Health Before, During, and After Cancer Care

  • Dental Care and Home Care Before, During, and After Treatment

Image reference: Dry tongue in Sjogren's syndrome. Photography. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May Accessed 25 Sep 2021.


The information on the Rhode Island Cancer and Oral Health Resource Guide, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images, and other external materials are for informational purposes only. The Partnership to Reduce Cancer in Rhode Island does not provide medical advice. The information on this website is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. 

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