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Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

Xerostomia means dry mouth and is due to too little saliva to keep the mouth moist. Saliva is produced from glands in your mouth and helps not only keep your mouth and throat from becoming too dry but also helps with keeping the mouth clean by helping move small bits of food out from the crevices in your mouth and providing some protection against microbes (viruses, bacteria, and fungal infections).

A dry mouth is a symptom in itself and can have multiple causes ranging from being dehydrated to a side effect of medication or treatments like radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, can cause it, or even if you breathe through your mouth most of the time rather than through your nose.

A dry mouth can go hand-in-hand with a sore throat, bad breath, a hoarse voice, difficulty swallowing, mouth infections such as thrush, and problems with gums or teeth (this is due to bacteria or plaque building up more when there is less anti-microbial saliva).

Doctor’s advice

Next steps

You can help dry mouth symptoms by staying well hydrated, chewing gum (sugar-free), or sucking on a sugar-free sweet or ice cube. You should look after your lips, too, using a lip balm or Vaseline.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

Your local pharmacist can recommend over-the-counter products that help with a dry mouth, such as mouthwashes, gels, and spray.

Really good dental and oral hygiene is of prime importance to stave off infection and bad breath. Make sure you are regularly brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash (go for alcohol-free mouthwash, as alcohol can dry your mouth out even more). Saliva protects the mouth, so in the long term, these measures will reduce the risk of tooth decay or gum issues.

Am I fit for work?

You are fit for work if you have xerostomia.

When should I see my doctor?

In certain circumstances, you need to see your doctor. These include if your symptoms don’t improve after two weeks, you have a hoarse voice for more than three weeks, you also suffer from dry eyes, or if you have any sore patches in your mouth or difficulty swallowing or eating.

You should see your doctor if a dry mouth coincides with starting a new medication.

The doctor will ask about your current symptoms, and they will examine your mouth and throat and have a feel around your head and neck. They may want to do some blood tests to test for any underlying health condition or send you for further tests at a specialist ear, nose, and throat clinic.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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