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Side Effect: Dry Mouth

What is Dry Mouth?

Dry mouth, also called xerostomia, is a condition in which the salivary glands do not produce enough saliva to keep the mouth moist or when the saliva becomes very thick and sticky. Having a dry mouth or thick saliva increases the risk of developing cavities and mouth infections.

What does Dry Mouth look like?

Symptoms of dry mouth include:

Dry Mouth

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Who gets Dry Mouth?

Dry mouth can have many causes. Some of the causes of dry mouth in patients with cancer include:

How to prevent Dry Mouth

It is important to care for your mouth during cancer treatment to prevent dry mouth. The most important ways to prevent dry mouth include managing your diet, adjusting medications known to cause dry mouth, and maintaining good oral hygiene.

Food and Beverages


Maintain good oral hygiene

How to treat Dry Mouth

If you develop dry mouth, it is important to still follow steps for prevention which include managing your diet, adjusting medications known to cause dry mouth when possible, and maintaining good oral hygiene. In addition to these steps, several products are available such as artificial saliva substitutes that can help moisturize the mouth and relieve dry mouth symptoms.

Prescription medications such as pilocarpine or cevimeline may be used to stimulate salivary gland function. In some cases, radiation therapy may be directed at the salivary glands to reduce inflammation and improve saliva production. Non-traditional approaches for treating dry mouth include acupuncture and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). It is recommended to speak with your health care team before seeking a non-traditional method of treating dry mouth. Seeing a dentist for dry mouth may also be beneficial in some cases to prevent mouth infections and dental decay.


1) Choo PJ, Taing MW, and Teoh L. A retrospective study of drugs associated with xerostomia from the Australian Database of Adverse Event Notifications. Int J Pharm Pract 2022;30(6):548-553

2. Mercadante V, Jensen SB, Smith DK, et al. Salivary gland hypofunction and/or xerostomia induced by nonsurgical cancer therapies: ISOO/MASCC/ASCO Guidelines. J Clin Oncol 2021;39(25):2825-2843

3. Palay C. Dental Care: Unmet Oral Needs of Patients with Cancer and Survivors. Clin J Oncol Nurs 2017;21(5):629-632

4. PDQ Supportive and Palliative Care Editorial Board. Oral Complications of Chemotherapy and Head/Neck Radiation (PDQ®): Patient Version. 2019 Apr 26. In: PDQ Cancer Information Summaries [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Cancer Institute (US); 2002-. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK65725/. Accessed November 2, 2023.

5. Riley P, Glenny AM, Hua F, et al. Pharmacological interventions for preventing dry mouth and salivary gland dysfunction following radiotherapy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2017;7(7):CD012744

Created: November 14, 2023 Updated: January 24, 2024