Managing the patient presenting with xerostomia: a review


  • Disclosures No conflict of interest.

V. Visvanathan
ENT Registrar, Leeds General Infirmary, Great George street, Leeds LS1 3EX, UK
Tel.: 07834993881
Fax: 0113 2443799


Aims:  Patients complaining of a dry mouth can present themselves to various clinicians such as the primary care physician, dentists, otolaryngologists and/or oral surgeons. The aim of our review is to provide a systematic method of assessing and managing these patients based on current best evidence published in the literature.

Methods:  A literature search was performed on 20th April 2009 using MEDLINE and EMBASE using the terms dry mouth and xerostomia in combination with diagnosis, management, investigations and treatment.

Results:  There appears to be little correlation between patient symptoms and objectives tests of salivary flow. Therefore clinical management should be based on patient symptoms. There is good evidence to support that xerostomia is commonly associated with anticholinergic drugs, and altering such agents plays an important role in the management of these patients. In patients with residual salivary gland function, the use of salivary stimulants appears to be more beneficial than salivary substitutes.

Conclusion:  Xerostomia can be debilitating and primarily affects the middle aged and elderly population. The most common causes of xerostomia include medications with anticholinergic properties, dehydration, diabetes and radiotherapy for head and neck cancer. Treatment of xerostomia essentially involves addressing the cause followed by salivary substitutes and/or salivary stimulants.