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Dry mouth ("xerostomia") is a lack of saliva in the mouth.  

  • Dry mouth can be a side effect of drugs or chemotherapy or of a health condition.
  • Saliva inhibits the growth of bacteria that prevents fungal infections in the mouth. Dry mouth increases the risk for infection. (Saliva also lubricates the mouth which permits us to speak and swallow.)
  • Dry mouth can also cause severe tooth decay or malnutrition because of difficulty eating.

How To Test For Dry Mouth

  • On your own: If you can chew a dry cracker and swallow it easily, you are probably producing normal amounts of saliva and do not have dry mouth. 
  • Your doctor: There is a test that can measure the amount of your saliva. During the test, the doctor places a cup over your parotid duct.  offsite linkHe or she then stimulates salivary flow with a citric acid soultion. Saliva is then collected.

What To Do About Dry Mouth

  • There are a variety of suggestions worth considering to deal with dry mouth. To learn about them, click here. 
  • To learn about foods and drinks that are easy to swallow, click here.


  • If you have difficulty swallowing, click here
  • If you experience mouth sores, click here for information about dealing with them effectively. 
  • To learn how to keep your mouth, throat and gums healthy to prevent future problems, click here.

What To Do (And Not Do) About Dry Mouth

If your mouth becomes dry, try the following:

  • Check to see if a particular drug is causing dry mouth. You can learn if a particular drug causes dry mouth by asking your doctor or pharmacist. If desired, you can learn about a drug on the FDA's web site.  For the FDA's Index To Drug Specific Information, click here. offsite linkYou can also check the web site of the Physicians' Desk Reference at offsite link. If a drug is the cause, ask your doctor if there is an alternative that will work as well for you without this side effect.
  • Use a saliva replacement to moisten your mouth.
    • Ask your doctor or dentist for a recommendation for a saliva replacement. (He or she may even have free samples for you to try.)
    • You can also ask your local pharmacist about over-the-counter saliva replacement drugs.  For example, lemon glycerin swabs can be used to wipe the inside of the mouth and teeth.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of liquids.
    • Drink 8, 8 ounce glasses of water a day.
    • Take frequent sips of water or milk.
    • Use a straw to drink liquids.
    • Keep a glass of liquid available at all times.
  • Change your food intake.
    • If three large meals a day are difficult to eat, consider eating six small meals. 
    • Eat soft, moist foods such as cooked cereals, mashed potatoes and scrambled eggs.
    • Eat pureed foods.
    • Moisten dry foods. For example:
      • Put butter, margarine, or gravy on bread or other foods.
      • Dunk crisp, dry foods in mild liquids.
  • Use a dry-mouth toothpaste such as Biotene. 
    • While these toothpastes do not increase saliva, they do relieve burning sensations caused by mouth dryness. 
    • Dry-mouth toothpaste is also less likely than other toothpastes to irritate dry tissues in the mouth.
  • Rinse your mouth with a mouthwash without alcohol in it. Rinsing your mouth several times a day when experiencing dry mouth can help keep natural oral bacteria balanced which helps defend against unfriendly bacteria and viruses.    
    • An easy-to-make and easy-to-use mouth rinse which does not include alcohol is a mixture of baking soda and water. Mix one teaspoon of baking soda with one cup of warm water. Before using, mix well to dissolve the baking soda. Gently swirl the mixture in your mouth before spitting it out. Do not swallow.
    • Another easy-to-make and use mouth rinse is a combination of salt, baking soda and water. Mix l/8th teaspoon of salt with l/4 teaspoon of baking soda into one cup of warm water until the salt dissolves. After gently rinsing your mouth, rinse out your mouth with plain water to eliminate what may be left of the salt or baking soda.
  • Try whichever of the following ideas appeal to you:
    • Sucking on ice chips, popsicles and/or sugar free candy - particularly hard lemon drops. The sourness of hard lemon drops stimulates saliva.
    • Queasy Pops or Queasy Drops. These products were developed by healthcare professionals for nausea but also help some people with dry mouth.
    • Chewing on sugar-free gum.
    • Try an over-the-counter product such as:
      • Therabreath 
      • Xylimelts
    • Press a thin slice of cucumber to the roof of your mouth for 90 seconds. It helps increase saliva (and can eliminate bad breath)
    • Gently chew on your tongue. If this idea works for you, you should manufacture saliva in about 30 seconds.
    • Use a cool mist humidifier to moisten room air, especially at night. 
    • Before you go to sleep, swish your mouth with some olive oil, or let a pat of butter soften in your mouth - and then spit it out.
  • Avoid the following
    • Caffeine and tobacco.
    • Alcohol in all forms, including mouthwashes such as Listerine which have alcohol in them. Alcohol dries tissues in the mouth. 

Foods And Drinks That Are Easy To Swallow

According to the National Cancer Institute, the following list of recommended foods and drinks may help if you have dry mouth. (The list also works for people who have trouble swallowing.)

TypesFoods and Drinks
Main meals and other foods
  • Baby food
  • Casseroles
  • Chicken salad
  • Cooked refined cereals (such as Cream of Wheat®, Cream of Rice®, instant oatmeal, and grits)
  • Cottage cheese
  • Eggs (soft boiled or scrambled)
  • Egg salad
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Peanut butter, creamy
  • Pureed cooked foods
  • Soups
  • Stews
  • Tuna salad
  • Custard
Desserts and Snacks
  • Flan
  • Fruit (pureed or baby food)
  • Gelatin
  • Ice cream
  • Milkshakes
  • Puddings
  • Sherbet
  • Smoothies
  • Soft fruits (such as bananas or applesauce)
  • Sorbet
  • Yogurt (plain or vanilla)
Meal replacements and supplements
  • Instant breakfast drinks (such as Carnation® Instant Breakfast®)
  • Liquid meal replacements (such as Ensure®)
  • Clear nutrition supplements (such as Resource® Breeze, Carnation® Instant Breakfast® juice, and Enlive!®)

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