Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Dry mouth syndrome

4-minute read

What is dry mouth syndrome?

Dry mouth syndrome refers to when you don't produce enough saliva. It is also called xerostomia. Sometimes dry mouth syndrome is just a nuisance, but some people find it affects their health, teeth and gums, and even their quality of life. It is often a side-effect of medicines, so talk to your doctor if you think you have dry mouth syndrome.

Types of dry mouth syndrome

Saliva is produced by the salivary glands in the mouth. It plays an important role in washing away food from the teeth, keeping bacteria under control in the mouth, helping to taste, chew, swallow and digest food.

Dry mouth syndrome refers to when the salivary glands stop producing enough saliva. This can happen for many reasons, including:

Sometimes dry mouth syndrome is caused by conditions that stop the salivary glands from working properly, such as Sjögren’s syndrome, scleroderma, systemic lupus erythematous, hepatitis C infection, rheumatoid arthritis, anorexia nervosa, or bulimia.

What are the symptoms of dry mouth syndrome?

As well as having a very dry mouth, in severe cases people with dry mouth syndrome may find it difficult to speak, eat or swallow. This can lead to further health problems, including malnutrition or problems with the teeth, mouth or throat.

Other symptoms include:

  • saliva that feels thick and stringy
  • a sore throat
  • feeling thirsty
  • needing more liquids to help with swallowing
  • changes to the sense of taste
  • dry or cracked lips
  • a hoarse voice or a cough
  • dry eyes, nose or corners of the mouth
  • mouth ulcers
  • white patches in the mouth (yeast infection)
  • bleeding gums
  • tooth decay

How is dry mouth syndrome diagnosed?

Your doctor will have a close look at your mouth and will ask about any medicines you are taking. Sometimes they may order tests, including blood tests or imaging to see why the salivary glands aren’t working or whether there is another medical reason for the problem.

How is dry mouth syndrome treated?

Sometimes dry mouth syndrome can be easily fixed if you by stopping taking the medicine that is causing it. However, you should not make changes to your medication without first consulting your doctor.

Your doctor will also recommend products to keep your mouth moist and to protect against tooth decay, such as mouth washes, moisturisers or artificial saliva. There are also medicines available to stimulate the salivary glands to produce saliva.

It is important to treat problems in the mouth caused by dry mouth syndrome, such as thrush, mouth ulcers and dental problems.

Living with dry mouth syndrome

You can ease the discomfort of dry mouth syndrome by:

  • sipping water regularly (but avoiding sugary drinks, fruit juice or cordial)
  • rinsing your mouth with water after you eat
  • chewing sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva
  • quitting smoking
  • avoiding foods that irritate your mouth, such as citrus foods, spicy foods, foods with sharp edges like crackers or chips, or alcohol
  • trying to breathe through your nose rather than your mouth
  • keeping the air in your bedroom moist with a humidifier
  • using moisturiser on your lips, preferably with SPF 30+ sunblock

Dry mouth syndrome greatly increases your chance of getting tooth decay or gum disease. It is very important to see your dentist regularly and to protect your teeth by:

  • using a soft toothbrush and flossing
  • using a prescription toothpaste, if recommended by your dentist
  • avoiding toothpastes that cause your mouth to burn
  • using mouth rinses
  • avoiding sugary or acidic foods

If you wear dentures, make sure you keep them very clean. Rinse them after meals, brush them daily with a soft brush and mild soap (not toothpaste) and soak them in water overnight. Speak to your dentist if your dentures don’t fit well.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2020

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Dry mouth | Health and wellbeing | Queensland Government

A dry mouth (or xerostomia) is due to decreased saliva flow or changes in the amount of saliva produced.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Medications and your oral health (dry mouth - xerostomia) | SA Health

Some medications may cause you to have dry mouth which increases your risk of tooth decay, oral infections and gum disease.

Read more on SA Health website

Dry mouth - Better Health Channel

A dry mouth is a symptom of an underlying problem, rather than a disease in itself.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Dry mouth - Australian Dental Association

About one in three adults report having a dry mouth at some point in their life. A dry mouth is a symptom of something affecting the body. It does not only occur because the saliva glands are not working properly. If you have a dry mouth, please see your doctor or dentist who can help you to find the cause and make a plan for you to solve it.

Read more on website

Sjogren's syndrome: symptoms, causes and treatment

Sjögren’s syndrome - also known as Sjogren syndrome - is a chronic (ongoing) disease that typically results in symptoms of dry eyes and dry mouth. It is caused by problems with the immune system.

Read more on myDr website

Cancer treatment - Australian Dental Association

Treatments for cancer, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy, can lead to side effects in the mouth. Side effects can include mouth soreness and mouth ulcers (oral mucositis), a dry mouth, and a change in the ability to taste.

Read more on website

Mouth health - Cancer Council Victoria

Cancer treatment can cause side effects that affect the mouth area.

Read more on Cancer Council Victoria website

Dental health - Diabetes Australia

The mouth is often overlooked as an area of the body with complications associated with diabetes.

Read more on Diabetes Australia website

Bad breath (halitosis) -

Most bad breath (halitosis) originates in the mouth and is caused by the breakdown of food by bacteria. Bad breath is especially common first thing.

Read more on myDr website

Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) - Targeting Cancer

Learn more about intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and its benefits for cancer treatment.

Read more on Radiation Oncology Targeting Cancer website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.