How your diet can soothe dry mouth and reduce cavities

1 in 4 people have dry mouth which causes discomfort & tooth decay. A healthy diet can actually support salivary flow, lessening the risk of cavities – find out more.

Xerostomia aka dry mouth affects 1 in 4 people [1]. Xerostomia can be caused by a wide range of things like medications, oral cancer, diabetes, and other systemic conditions [2]. While there is no cure for Xerostomia, there are things one can do to make it less uncomfortable, starting with the foods they eat.

Why is saliva important?

Dry mouth is a condition caused by decreased salivary flow. While the average person probably doesn’t spend too much time thinking about their saliva, they produce about 0.5 and 1.5 liters of saliva per day [3]. Saliva serves many purposes. It lubricates the oral cavity and tissues, consistently cleans bacteria off the teeth, contains buffers that neutralize an acidic Ph, and contains enzymes that are crucial for digestion and nutrient absorption [4].

How does dry mouth affect the oral cavity?

When salivary flow is decreased, the oral cavity is impacted significantly. For one, there is an increased susceptibility to cavities because plaque is not removed from the teeth. This is especially problematic in areas that are neglected during brushing like the gum line and the backside of the molars. Plaque is sticky and acts as a food trap. If someone consumes a lot of simple, white carbohydrates and drinks acidic beverages like energy drinks or soda, the pH of the oral cavity becomes acidic. This combination of plaque and acid creates an ideal environment for bacterial growth leading to cavities. A decrease in saliva also affects speech and swallowing as there is no lubrication of the mouth or tongue.

What foods support saliva production?

There is no cure for xerostomia but a few tweaks to the diet can make it more tolerable and decrease the susceptibility to cavities. For starters… less sugar and acidic foods. The truth is no one needs sugary foods or acidic beverages in their diet, but this is especially true for those with dry mouths. Crunchy foods like apples and carrots stimulate saliva flow and the mechanical action of chewing these crispy foods also helps clean teeth, especially the chewing surfaces which are common food traps. Foods with less sodium are also good choices as salt can irritate dry tissues. Hydrating foods like cucumbers and watermelon are soothing to a dry mouth and plain, unsweetened yogurt can help balance an acidic oral pH. In between meals, a sugar-free mint or gum can help stimulate salivary flow. Mints or gum with xylitol is a great option. Xylitol is a plant derivative that inhibits cavity-causing bacteria and promotes the remineralization of tooth enamel [5]. It tastes sweet but has no sugar making it a great option for those with a sweet tooth.

There are small changes one can incorporate to make their dry mouth more tolerable. Most of these are simple and require little effort but make a world of difference.

Esmy Ornelas

Esmy Ornelas is a registered Dental Hygienist, writer, educator, and consultant with 10 years of experience in dentistry. She is passionate about education, empowering hygienists to advance their careers in and out of the operatory, and about community. She has written for RDH Magazine, the RDH Graduate, and is a full-time professor of Dental Hygiene and Assisting at Rose State College in Oklahoma.

  1. Agostini, B. A., Cericato, G. O., Silveira, E. R. D., Nascimento, G. G., Costa, F. D. S., Thomson, W. M., & Demarco, F. F. (2018). How Common is Dry Mouth? Systematic Review and Meta-Regression Analysis of Prevalence Estimates. Brazilian dental journal, 29(6), 606–618.
  2. Lorgulescu G. (2009). Saliva between normal and pathological. Important factors in determining systemic and oral health. Journal of medicine and life, 2(3), 303–307. 52503/
  3. Nayak, P. A., Nayak, U. A., & Khandelwal, V. (2014). The effect of xylitol on dental caries and oral flora. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dentistry, 6, 89–94.
  4. Tiwari M. (2011). Science behind human saliva. Journal of natural science, biology, and medicine, 2(1), 53–58.
  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Dry mouth. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.