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Dry Mouth and Throat: All You Need to Know About Xerostomia

Medically reviewed by Grazielle Millo-Paderes, DDM, MSc · Dentistry · Unihealth-Parañaque Hospital and Medical Center

Written by Shienna Santelices · Updated Jun 24, 2021

Dry Mouth and Throat: All You Need to Know About Xerostomia

Xerostomia refers to the dry sensation of the mouth due to the absence of saliva flow. It is not a disease but may be a symptom of other medical conditions. This condition of having a dry mouth and throat is not related to age, but older adults often complain about having a dry mouth as they are more exposed to various medications.

Decreased amounts of saliva can hinder various activities that use the mouth. Patients who experience xerostomia will have other symptoms, such as difficulty in speaking and chewing, bad breath, sore throat, changes in taste, and a feeling of “sticky mouth.” These may be irritating symptoms, but these are manageable.

What Causes Dry Mouth and Throat?

There are numerous causes for  dry mouth and throat, and they include the following:


The most common cause of dry mouth includes over-the-counter drugs, such as antidepressants, antidiarrheal, antihistamine, and pain medications. Older adults are prescribed these kinds of medications, resulting in numerous complaints about having a dry mouth.

Alcohol and Tobacco

Too much consumption of alcohol and tobacco may contribute to the increase of dry mouth.

Autoimmune disorders

Some autoimmune diseases can cause dry mouths, such as Sjogren disease, lupus, arthritis, thyroid disease, and cirrhosis.


Chemotherapy treatments include radiation treatments to the head and neck that may damage the salivary gland. However, dry mouth may be temporary or permanent, depending on the amount of radiation used during the treatment.

History of health conditions

Existing health conditions that may cause dry mouth include dehydration, poorly controlled diabetes, nerve damage from head or neck injury, and HIV/AIDS. 

Sjogren Syndrome

It is a systemic condition that affects any body organ or system. The most common symptoms of Sjogren syndrome are dry mouth and dry eyes. It also causes chronic inflammation that damages the salivary gland.

Complications of Xerostomia

The function of saliva is to keep the moisture in the mouth and throat that protect the lining membrane from microbial infection and mechanical injury. However, the lack of saliva production may lead to severe complications, such as dental diseases, bleeding, and fungal infections. It can also affect the health of the patient through less food consumption and dehydration. Moreover, the chronic discomfort from the symptoms may contribute to stress, depression, or anxiety.

How is Xerostomia Diagnosed?

The most vital evaluation to detect dry mouth is checking one’s medical history and physical examination. However, various tests will be conducted if needed, such as the following:

  • Sialometry. This test is for measuring salivary flow. The normal daily production of saliva is between 0.5 L to 2.0 L and 1.5 to 2.0 mL per minute. If the salivary flow is less than 0.5 to 0.7 mL per minute, the patient will be diagnosed with xerostomia.
  • Sialography. It is a test used for patients who have hd radiation exposure. It is an imaging technique that identifies salivary stones and masses. The imaging trial is performed six weeks before the radiation exposure and six weeks after the radiation treatment. The result shows a decrease in salivary flow.
  • Biopsy. This test is needed if the cause of dry mouth is an inflammatory disease like sarcoidosis.

How to Manage Xerostomia?

In managing xerostomia and dry mouth and throat, the main goal is to reduce the symptoms. There are helpful ways to achieve symptomatic relief that can be done even at home, including the following.


Drink water often. Dehydration is also one of the main causes of xerostomia. Aside from water intake, try drinking milk as it contains moisturizing properties. People who cannot drink cow milk can take almond or soy milk as a substitute.

Avoid caffeine, alcoholic beverages, and alcohol-containing mouthwashes

Alcohol has a drying effect on the mouth. If taken, it will irritate the mouth and increase dryness.

Avoid medication that causes xerostomia

If xerostomia is medication-induced, avoid taking these immediately. Instead, talk to your doctor for a substitute medication. 


Some drugs may help in managing dry mouths, such as pilocarpine and cevimeline. These two drugs are FDA-approved and are both oral medications.

Saliva Substitutes

There are available over-the-counter saliva substitutes like lozenges, gels, and sprays. However, these are not completely reliable, and the effectiveness has a duration limit.

Chew sugar-free gum

Sugar-free candies help avoid damage to teeth, and some candies contain xylitol that prevents cavities. However, too much consumption of sugar-free candies with xylitol can cause diarrhea.

Breathe through your nose

Avoid breathing through your mouth to avoid dry mouth. People who snore a lot should consult a doctor to prevent further oral complications.

Moisturize your lips

Dry mouth also causes dry lips. Use a moisturizer to heal the cracks and bleeding of the lips.

Add moisture to your room

It is better to put a humidifier in your room at night to avoid too much dryness in your mouth.

Key Takeaways

Xerostomia refers to dry mouth and throat due to a lack of saliva. It may not be a disease, but it is related to other health conditions. The symptoms of dry mouth and throat are manageable through home remedies and few medications. However, people exposed to radiation tend to have persistent symptoms and have poor outcomes even after the treatment. These symptoms should be managed earlier to avoid further complications that can contribute to other serious illnesses.

Learn more about Gum Disease here


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Grazielle Millo-Paderes, DDM, MSc

Dentistry · Unihealth-Parañaque Hospital and Medical Center

Written by Shienna Santelices · Updated Jun 24, 2021

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