Dry Mouth Syndrome (Xerostomia)

Dry Mouth Syndrome

Dry Mouth

Even our most outspoken patients can be silenced by Xerostomia… a medical condition that happens when there is a lack of saliva. It increases your risk for dental decay and greatly impacts your quality of life.


Do you have questions about Dry Mouth and Dry Mouth Syndrome? Many people do. Not only is it uncomfortable to live with but it almost always promotes bad breath. Sedona dentist Chris Marsh often treats patients who have dry mouths.

People get dry mouth also called xerostomia (ZEER-oh-STOH-mee-ah),   when the glands in the mouth that make saliva are not working properly. Because of this, there might not be enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. There are several reasons why the salivary glands might not be working right.


Sjogren’s Syndrome is a major cause of dry mouth.

Sjogren’s Syndrome Screening Quiz

Other disorders such as diabetes or hypothyroidism can also cause dry mouth or affect the salivary glands. Some people feel a dry mouth even if their salivary glands are working correctly. Some with certain diseases, like Parkinson’s disease or those who have suffered a stroke, may not be able to feel wetness in their mouth and may think their mouth is dry even though it is not.

Side Effects of Some Medicines

Medications are a common contributor to dry mouth syndrome. For example, dry mouth syndrome is a side effect of more than 400 prescription and over-the-counter medications, such as antihistamines and decongestants that are used to treat allergies and colds, antidepressants used to treat depression, and pain killers and diuretics. Click here for a list of prescriptions and over the counter drugs that can cause dry mouth.

Radiation therapy – the salivary glands can be damaged if they are exposed to radiation during cancer treatment. These patients experience a plethora of oral and pharyngeal side effects as a result of the salivary dysfunction.

Chemotherapy – drugs used to treat cancer can make saliva thicker, or “ropey,” causing your mouth to feel dry.

Nerve damage – injury to the head or neck can damage the nerves that tell salivary glands to make saliva.

Illicit Drugs



Depression/ anxiety

Menopause changing hormone levels affect the salivary glands, often leaving menopausal and post-menopausal women with a persistent feeling of dry mouth

Consequences of Dry Mouth Syndrome: Why Saliva Is Important

Sedona Dry MouthEvery day a healthy adult will produce three pints of saliva. Saliva is approximately 99 percent water, with its remaining components consisting of lubricants that help fight infection, as well as enzymes and proteins that help you digest food.

Not surprisingly, dry mouth syndrome does more than leave your mouth feeling dry and uncomfortable. Insufficient saliva causes the soft tissues of the mouth to become irritated, making them inflamed and more susceptible to infection. Your tongue may feel sensitive (burning tongue syndrome).

Also, without saliva to wash away food debris and neutralize the acids produced by plaque (bacteria), your teeth are more susceptible to dental cavities and root cavities.

What’s more, without the lubricating effect of saliva, you may find it difficult to swallow, talk and chew your food. You may be less able to taste foods, as well. Your throat may be sore and hoarse, and your nasal passages may become dry. When saliva is no longer present, you suddenly realize what an active role it plays in your mouth as eating and speaking are suddenly more difficult.

Wetting Your Whistle Again: Dry Mouth Syndrome Treatments

When we discover your dry mouth symptoms, we will examine your mouth for possible complications from dry mouth (cavities, irritation, and infection); as well as ask you questions about the symptoms and any medications you are taking.

There are a number of simple dry mouth syndrome treatments that are designed to restore moisture to your mouth.  Sedona Dentist Dr. Marsh may recommend:

  • Gum with Xylitol

    Gum with Xylitol

    Sugar-free candy, sugar-free gum or gum containing xylitol specially made to stimulate saliva flow. Any sugarless candy or gum is good for this purpose, but xylitol is an artificial sweetener that has been shown to inhibit bacterial growth in the oral cavity

  • Specially formulated oral rinses.
  • Using an over-the-counter artificial saliva substitute.
  • More fluid intake (drinking plenty of water, sucking ice chips) to help keep your mouth moist
  • Oral moisturizers (sprays or gels). Biotene products (Laclede) are highly recommended by Dr. Marsh for patients with dry mouth.
  • Oral prescription medications to induce saliva production, ask Dr. Marsh about a prescription that may help you.
  • Breathing through your nose, not your mouth, as much as possible
  • Using a room vaporizer to add moisture to the bedroom air
  • We will coach you in your practice of good dental hygiene. This means that you should brush and floss properly. You also should have regular dental visits every three months to discover any root cavities early
  • Consider using or purchasing an electric/sonic toothbrush. These can make a great difference, bring it to your dental appointment and let us coach you in how to improve its use
  • Protecting your teeth by brushing with prescription strength fluoride toothpaste, using a fluoride rinse, using a fluoride gel or using custom fluoride trays daily – Click here for instructions on home fluoride use

The American Dental Association (ADA) also suggests that people with dry mouth avoid tobacco and limit their consumption of carbonated beverages or those containing caffeine or alcohol. Also, because dry mouth increases the likelihood of tooth decay, the ADA recommends twice-daily tooth brushing, using floss or interdental cleaners once a day, and seeing your dentist for regular checkups. Sedona dentist Dr. Marsh recommends that people with a dry mouth have dental visits every three or four months depending on their individual dental conditions and the quality of home care that each individual patient has.

Tooth decay and xerostomia

Dry mouth syndrome is more likely to occur among older adults, but it can affect a person of any age. As our society ages and as the number of people using prescription medications increases, dry mouth (xerostomia) is causing more and more of dental problems. Devastating dental decay is one of the many side effects that can occur over a very short period of time.

Root Cavities

Root Cavities

Persons with dry mouth syndrome are very prone to what dentists call root caries (rampant ectopic caries) which is a virulent form of tooth decay. People with a dry mouth tends to get cavities  all over the mouth, dentists call this rampant decay “ectopic”, which means the tooth decay occurs on parts of the teeth that are not usually involved with decay.

In the case of dry mouth, the bacterial floral pattern shifts toward organisms which produce a great deal of acid when exposed to carbohydrates (the most common one we associate with decay is sugar), and persons with dry mouth may be prone to sucking on hard candies in order to produce more saliva in their mouth.  This combination produces very fast and serious decay in areas of the teeth that are not protected by enamel, namely the exposed root surfaces.