13 September 2019

For many, dry mouth is experienced once in a blue moon.  Most likely caused by dehydration, drinking one too many beers, or by simply sleeping with an open mouth.

Unfortunately, for others dry mouth is a chronic problem that can have distressing impact on day-to-day life. In addition to the physical side effects, it can also leave people feeling far less confident in social situations, to the point where eating and speaking in public becomes upsetting.

Current research estimates that around one in four adults suffer from the condition and this number rises to 40% in the over-55s. This makes dry mouth one of the most common oral health problems.

To help you understand more about dry mouth, here are some facts about the condition and our best advice for managing it.

Top ten facts about dry mouth:

  1. Dry mouth or ‘xerostomia' is a condition which affects the flow of saliva, causing your mouth to feel dry.
  2. Your mouth needs saliva to be able to work properly. Saliva keeps your mouth moist, and it helps to break down your food and helps you to swallow. It also acts as a cleanser, neutralising plaque acids. It is constantly washing around your mouth and teeth, fighting tooth decay and helping to keep your teeth clean.
  3. Having less saliva can also affect the taste of food and makes it harder to eat drier foods. Sometimes it can affect your speech and it makes people more likely to have bad breath.
  4. Dry mouth is usually worse at night, when the mouth produces less saliva than in the daytime.
  5. Dry mouth can cause the mouth to become sore and there is a higher risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
  6. It can be caused as a result of old age, or, quite often it is a side effect of medication - especially heart, blood pressure and depression tablets. Your doctor, pharmacist or dental team should be able to tell you whether your medication can cause problems.
  7. In some cases, dry mouth can be a direct result of a medical condition (for example diabetes, lupus, Sjogren's syndrome and blocked salivary glands).
  8. Women are more likely to suffer from chronic dry mouth than men (27 percent compared to 21 percent)1.
  9. Studies have shown that those that suffer from chronic dry mouth also have a higher risk of mental health illnesses and social anxiety2.
  10. Currently, there is no way of actually preventing the problem, although there are products to ease the symptoms.

Top five tips:

  1. Make sure you regularly visit your dentist - You have a higher risk of tooth decay and gum disease with dry mouth, and these can get worse quicker than usual. So it is important to visit your dental team regularly. They will tell you how often you should visit.
  2. It is important to use a fluoride toothpaste containing at least 1350 to 1500ppm (parts per million) of fluoride. Be aware that some products contain Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS), and some people with dry mouth find this can irritate the mouth and make the condition worse.
  3. There are a number of products designed to help your mouth stay moist and comfortable. These are usually gels or sprays. Some have extra ingredients which may help prevent tooth and gum problems. There are also special products to help with your day-to-day oral hygiene (for example toothpastes and mouth rinses).
  4. Chewing sugar-free gum can help ease dry mouth as it encourages your mouth to make saliva. Your dental team might recommend products such as rinses, gels, pastes and lozenges which you can get from the pharmacist.
  5. Some people find that sipping water, or sucking sugar-free sweets, helps in the short term. It is very important to use sugar-free products, as dry mouth can make you more likely to have tooth decay.

Expert comment from Dr Nigel Carter OBE:

“Dry mouth is far from just an inconvenience, it can cause real difficulty with speaking and eating and quite traumatic at times. Sufferers have explained how it has caused them to wake up the middle of night choking, gasping for breath and even fearing for their life.

“The physical symptoms associated with dry mouth make relatively simple tasks like eating or talking extremely difficult.  This can also have a negative impact on a person’s quality of life, confidence and self-esteem.

“It’s important that if you are concerned you are suffering from dry mouth that you go and visit your dentist. They are in the best position to have a thorough look in your mouth and pinpoint the cause and advise on treatment. Alternatively, you can call our Dental Helpline and speak to one of our friendly dental experts and receive impartial advice.”

For more information about dry mouth check out our dedicated information page on this condition.


1. T.Nederfors, Xerostomia: prevalence and pharmacotherapy. With special reference to beta-adrenoceptor antagonists, Swedish Dental Journal (1996; 116) p. 1 - 70

2.  Oral Health Foundation, The Untold Truth of Dry Mouth, https://www.dentalhealth.org/news/theuntoldtruthofdrymouth (accessed September 2019)