Dry mouth

Dry mouth

Definition and Symptoms

To describe what the patient refers to as “dry mouth,” doctors prefer to use the terms xerostomia or dry mouth .Whatever you call it, dry mouth is an unfortunate condition caused by a lack of saliva . This deficit can alter the perception of the normal taste of foods, make speech difficult and predispose to dental caries . Saliva , in fact, is able to buffer the acidity of the mouth and contains some substances with an antimicrobial action .

A dry mouth can also make swallowing difficult , while the digestive processes do not suffer particular negative consequences (the lack of intervention of the salivary amylase is amply compensated by the pancreatic one ). In addition to dryness of the oral mucosa, the patient may complain of sore throat , chapped lips , constant thirst , difficulty speaking, bad breath , gum disease and fungal infections of the mouth (see oral candidiasis or thrush ).



Having a dry mouth from time to time is a completely normal phenomenon, often the result of slight dehydration caused by too much sweat , poor fluid intake or excessive ingestion of alcohol or salty foods. We remind you that under normal conditions the salivary glands produce and secrete about one to one and a half liters of saliva per day.


In addition to food, dry mouth can have iatrogenic origins , i.e. linked to the intake of certain medicines.

The list of offending drugs is quite long and includes in particular pharmaceutical products used for the treatment of depression , anxiety , Parkinson’s disease , obesity ( sibutramine , phendimetrazine, amphetamine derivatives), urinary incontinence and cancer ( chemotherapy ), but also narcotics , antihistamines – decongestants , antihypertensives ( diuretics ), antidiarrheals and muscle relaxants .

Smoking and Drugs

Tobacco (smoked or chewed), exercising while breathing through the mouth , and talking or singing too much can make dry mouth feel worse.

In other cases, the drying up can be determined by the abuse of drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine, ephedrine and amphetamines, or alcohol (which has a dehydrating effect on the body).

Diseases and Disorders

A nasal obstruction ( septum deviations , allergic rhinitis , nasal polyposis, etc.), which forces the patient to breathe through the mouth, can make it parched like the conditions listed above.

Among the diseases responsible for dry mouth , Sjogrens syndrome stands out , followed by common diabetes and insipidus , mumps ( mumps ), cystic fibrosis and psychological disorders ( depression and anxiety); the sensation of dry mouth can also be perceived by patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease or who have suffered a heart attack .

When dry mouth is accompanied by excessive sweating and marked thinness , it can be a sign of a thyroid disease called hyperthyroidism .

Dry mouth can also be caused by injury to the salivary glands, for example due to a trauma to the head, surgery or localized radiotherapy to the neck and head (in which case the injury may be irreversible).

Read more: Dry Mouth: Causes and Symptoms »


For the diagnosis of xerostomia, the doctor or dentist carefully examines the patient’s clinical history and the symptoms he complains of; careful inspection of the oral cavity and palpation of the neck and cheeks – possibly associated with blood tests or imaging techniques (diagnostic imaging) – will possibly help him identify the origins of the problem. At home, dry mouth can be “diagnosed” by ingesting crackers or dry rice : if you have difficulty chewing or swallowing, the test is considered “positive”.


The treatment of xerostomia is personalized in relation to the root causes. For example, your doctor may decide to stop certain medicines and replace them with others. Oral rinses with special mouthwashes , application of artificial humectants in spray (Xerotin, Secriva), capable of mimicking the effect of saliva (especially useful before meals) and the adoption of other palliative measures considered secretory-stimulants (chewing gum or sugared almonds, strictly without sugar ), represent a generalized intervention strategy. The patient, for her part, must maintain adequate oral hygiene and correct any so-called spoiled habits, abolishing thesmoking , trying to breathe through the nose instead of the mouth , increasing the intake of liquids and humidifying the environments in which they stay.

When the salivary glands are healthy, dry mouth can be treated with sialagogue drugs, such as anetholtrithione (Sulfarlem) and pilocarpine ( Salagen), which increase the flow of saliva.



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