Saliva shortage: Seven tips for a dry mouth

Water's good. Sugar-free gum helps. But Listerine may dry out your mouth.

Saliva is a health drink for your teeth and mouth. The three pints produced by the salivary glands each day contain antibacterial substances that protect teeth from cavities. Like all body fluids, saliva is a near cousin to blood, so it contains calcium and phosphorus that teeth absorb. It also functions as an overall lubricant for the mouth, preventing food from sticking to your teeth and gums. By neutralizing gastric acid and keeping the flow of food and drink through the mouth and esophagus on the right course, saliva may help check gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), a leading cause of heartburn.

A serious lack of saliva — the medical term is xerostomia (pronounced zer-o-STO-me-ah) — may develop for several reasons. It's a side effect of many medications. It may result from autoimmune diseases like lupus and Sjögren's syndrome. Head and neck cancer patients struggle with dry mouth after receiving radiation treatments.

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