Can Proper Oral Hygiene Improve the Success of Xerostomia Treatments?

June is National Oral Health Month in the US, but we’d like to see oral health taken seriously year-round. The state of one’s oral health can directly impact the effects of xerostomia, either lessening the symptoms or improving them. Conversely, xerostomia can negatively impact one’s oral health, causing rampant tooth decay, cavities, mouth sores, and more. 


As the two are intertwined, we’ve put together an overview of the best oral hygiene practices and how they can improve the effects of dry mouth — and your quality of life. 


Understanding Dry Mouth

Xerostomia, the self-perception of dry mouth, affects roughly 20% of the general population, but the number jumps to 50% in the 60+ population. Dry mouth is caused by dysfunctioning salivary glands, which typically occurs due to the following:

  • Head and neck cancer treatment: Radiation treatment and chemotherapy, while necessary to treat cancer, can lead to several unpleasant side effects, including dry mouth.
  • Systemic diseases: Sjögren’s syndrome, a chronic autoimmune disease, is one of the leading causes of xerostomia, followed by systemic lupus erythematosus, diabetes, viral infection, end-stage renal disease, and sarcoidosis. 
  • Medications: 400+ drugs list dry mouth as a potential side effect. 
  • Polypharmacy: Taking two or more medications concurrently can increase the occurrence of dry mouth
  • Aging: Xerostomia can sometimes be a natural side effect of aging.


One or more of the above conditions can lead to dry mouth, which presents a variety of symptoms:

  • Dryness in the mouth/nose/throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Stickiness, itchy, or burning in the mouth/nose/throat
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, and speaking
  • Dysgeusia (change in taste)
  • Mouth sores
  • Recurring mouth or throat infections
  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty wearing dentures
  • Rampant tooth decay
  • Increased thirst

Due to the many complications of dry mouth and its wide-reaching effects on quality of life, people who suffer from it are advised to seek treatment from their doctors or dentists as soon as possible.

Why is Oral Health Important?

Oral health is important for everyone, whether they suffer from dry mouth or not. Proper oral hygiene practices increase the chances of maintaining a healthy mouth, which includes keeping your teeth and preventing infection, gum disease, and tooth decay.


Ora health can also impact overall health. Studies suggest that the oral germs that cause swelling and inflammation may play a role in several major diseases, including endocarditis, cardiovascular disease, pregnancy and birth complications, and pneumonia. 


Conversely, certain conditions (such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS, cancer, and Alzheimer’s) may have a detrimental impact on one’s oral health, so even brushing, flossing, etc. may not be enough to stave off infection. However, doing these things is still important, if only to minimize the damage these diseases wreak.


Best Oral Hygiene Practices

Brushing and flossing are the “bread and butter” of oral hygiene, and doing both regularly can help fight xerostomia-induced tooth decay and dental caries.


When brushing, it’s important to use the right technique and brush — both of which you can learn from your dentist. Your dentist may also recommend using an alcohol-free mouthwash. If your condition is severe, your dentist may recommend a prescription or OTC mouthwash that acts as a saliva substitute. 


One of the more challenging aspects of oral health maintenance is regular dental checkups and cleanings. While these may be irksome, they will also give you the best tools to combat dry mouth. 


Regular cleanings can minimize the chances of bacteria growth inside your mouth, which can lead to mouth sores and cavities. Checkups will help your dentist stay abreast of your oral health situation and provide them with opportunities to recommend the best products/treatments for your personal situation. 


Dry Mouth Treatment

Good oral hygiene is an important tool in managing dry mouth symptoms, but it’s not considered a full-fledged treatment. Oral hygiene practices should be used in conjunction with whatever xerostomia treatment you and your dentists/healthcare provider decide upon. 

The most common treatment options include:

  • Electrostimulation: Use a device (like the SaliPen) to deliver soft, painless electrical impulses to your mouth. This will stimulate the salivary glands to produce more saliva.
  • Medication: If you’re taking medication(s) that cause dry mouth, your healthcare provider may change the dose or type to find the right balance that won’t lead to dry mouth. Another option is to take medication designed to increase the salivary glands’ ability to produce saliva. These medications are known as sialogogues. 
  • Saliva substitutes: Throat lozenges, oral spray, gum, and mouthwash can provide artificial saliva to ease the discomfort of dry mouth. These are not permanent solutions — they can be used x number of times a day (depending on the product), but when you don’t use them, dry mouth symptoms persist.
  • Lifestyle changes: Certain lifestyle changes can assist with dry mouth symptom management, such as:
    • Drinking more water (especially in the summer, when the heat exacerbates dry mouth symptoms)
    • Limiting alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine intake
    • Breathing through your nose at night (not through your mouth)
    • Using a humidifier at night to keep moisture in the air
    • Following good oral health practices


Happy Mouth, Happy Life

Sometimes, even people who brush and floss twice daily and see their dentists regularly may experience dry mouth, gum, disease, and tooth decay. Oral hygiene practices are preventative, but they’re not a foolproof solution, as so many other factors play a role in oral and overall health.


However, one thing is certain: good oral hygiene practices do not detract in any way from your health — they only help. This is especially true for dry mouth, which can drastically reduce your quality of life. The healthier your mouth is, the higher your quality of life can be.



How are xerostomia and oral hygiene related?

Xerostomia, aka dry mouth, can negatively impact oral health. The lack of saliva can cause rampant tooth decay, cavities, mouth sores, bad breath, trouble chewing, and more. The more you implement proper oral hygiene practices, the better your chances of staving off the harmful effects of dry mouth.


What causes dry mouth?

Dry mouth is typically caused by head and neck cancer — and their treatment, like radiation and chemotherapy — Sjögren’s syndrome, medications, polypharmacy, and aging. 


What are the three pillars of oral hygiene?

Brushing properly, flossing properly, and regular visits to the dentist.


What are effective xerostomia treatments?

For mild cases of xerostomia, increasing water intake, sleeping with a humidifier, and cutting out alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine may be sufficient to heal the symptoms. For more severe cases, medical professionals often recommend several types of treatment: electrostimulation, medication, and saliva substitutes. 


Is electrostimulation painful?

No, electrostimulation works by delivering painless electrical impulses to your mouth to stimulate the salivary glands to produce more saliva.


Is proper oral hygiene a miracle cure for dry mouth?

There are no miracle cures for dry mouth, but proper oral hygiene may lessen the severity of dental damage caused by dry mouth. There is absolutely no downside to proper oral hygiene.


Where can I buy the SaliPen?

You can buy the SaliPen here