The sensation of a dry mouth (xerostomia), whether caused by an actual or perceived reduction of salivary flow, is a common problem. Dry mouth is common in older adults and is usually a result of medications such as antihistamines, decongestants, high blood pressure medications, painkillers, and drugs for urinary incontinence. Less-common causes include radiation or chemotherapy to the head and neck, Sjögren’s syndrome, and mouth-breathing.
Saliva plays a central role in food digestion, lubrication of the oral mucosa, and taste perception. Its antimicrobial properties protect you against cavities as it mechanically rinses away dental plaque. Without adequate salivary flow, you increase your risk of cavities and gum disease, and may experience problems with chewing and tasting food. You can improve symptoms by avoiding caffeine, smoking, and alcohol; drinking more water; sucking on sugar-free candy; and using over-the-counter products to relieve dry mouth. Some patients with severe cases opt for salivary substitutes.