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Dry Mouth: What is it and is my child at risk?

June 21, 2017


The sensation of dry mouth (medical term is xerostomia) not only affects adults, but can also affect children. While most children tend towards adequate spit flow and even drooling at times, there are plenty of children that have impaired saliva flow, which can cause a variety of problems, including an increased rate of tooth decay.


How does dry mouth occur?

Oral dryness occurs when the saliva created does not keep pace with the rate of fluid loss in the mouth. Most people who experience oral dryness may seek fluids, which are likely to be cold and acidic beverages such as soda. These effects can be very damaging to teeth over time as the sugary, acidic beverages lead to a loss of enamel, and subsequent tooth decay occurs. Other signs may be: chapped lips, fissured (cracked appearance) to tongue, difficulty with speech and swallowing, thick/ropey saliva, burning sensation or generalized discomfort in the mouth.


Common causes/contributors to dry mouth:

  • Medications: caffeine, asthma medications, acne medications, amphetamines in ADHD medication, anti-anxiety medications, decongestants, diuretics, narcotics, sedatitives, diuretics, antihistamines, seizure medications, chemotherapy drugs, tobacco products, among others.

  • Medical Conditions: De


    hydration (from athletic activity or other causes), mouth breathing, type I or type II diabetes, hemodialysis for renal disease, eating disorders, food intolerances

  • Salivary Gland Injury: Graf-versus-host disease in bone marrow transplant recipients, early onset autoimmune diseases, radiation therapy, pediatric HIV infection

  • Uncommon causes: anatomic malformations, ectodermal dysplasia, salivary gland dysfunction (either not formed or malformed)


What do I do if I suspect dry mouth in my child?

A visit to the dentist is important and also letting your dentist know about all of your child’s medications (including over-the-counter remedies) and medical conditions. Lifestyle modification will likely be recommended to address the risks created by dry mouth.


Typical home care regimens will be customized to the individual but need to address:

Dietary adjustments to reduce tooth damage

An aggressive oral hygiene routine to improve tooth health

Utilizing salivary substitutes as appropriate to aid in swallowing, speech, and oral comfort

Hydration strategies to reduce dry mouth sensation

Fluoride or other anti-cavity medication use to reduce enamel damage long-term

Lifestyle adjustments (as appropriate) to limit damage from unnecessary sources


What NOT to do if I suspect dry mouth in my child?

-Do not alter medication regimens without first talking with your doctor. The benefits to the medication may outweigh the increased risk of tooth decay, which may be managed.

-Ignore it. Talk with your doctor and your dentist instead to help.

-Manage symptoms yourself with sugary drinks- not only will this develop a tolerance for sugary drinks, but may also create a dependence on these products over time.



Recognition of the signs and symptoms of dry mouth can be difficult in children. Talk to your dentist early if you have any concerns because an early prevention strategy can lead to improved oral health outcomes in the long-term. If you have concerns about dry mouth in your child, call us today for a consultation.



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