One of the most common symptoms of diabetes is dry mouth, or xerostomia. Dry mouth is a common symptom in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Not everyone with diabetes will experience it, though. You can also have dry mouth if you don’t have diabetes. If you have dry mouth and suspect you might have diabetes, you should talk to your primary care doctor.

Dry mouth occurs due to a reduced amount of saliva in your mouth. The symptoms of dry mouth include:

  • a rough, dry tongue
  • a lack of moisture in the mouth
  • frequent pain in the mouth
  • cracked and chapped lips
  • sores in the mouth
  • infections in the oral cavity
  • difficulty with swallowing, talking, or chewing

Anyone can get dry mouth, but it’s a common symptom of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The exact reasons are unknown, but high blood sugar levels could cause dry mouth in people with diabetes. Some medications used to treat diabetes can also cause dry mouth.

Other causes of dry mouth include:

  • dehydration
  • kidney dialysis
  • breathing through the mouth

Read more: Type 2 diabetes and oral health »

Dry mouth isn’t well-understood because there hasn’t been much research in the area. One meta-analysis reviewed studies from 1992 to 2013, but the researchers were unable to determine any definitive causes for dry mouth from the study results.

You may be able to improve your symptoms of dry mouth at home. Some home remedies include:

  • avoiding food and drinks with a lot of sugar, caffeine, or artificial sweeteners
  • drinking a lot of water
  • flossing after every meal
  • eating high-fiber fruits and vegetables
  • using toothpicks to scrape excess plaque off your teeth
  • using alcohol-free mouthwash
  • chewing gum
  • brushing your teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste
  • sucking on mints that contain xylitol, which freshens the breath

You’ll need to identify the underlying cause to treat dry mouth. If your blood sugar is causing dry mouth, managing your blood sugar levels should help improve your symptoms. If you suspect a medication you’re taking is the cause, talk to your doctor. They may be able to prescribe a different medication or adjust your dosage.

You should also regularly visit your dentist. Regular cleaning can improve your oral health, which may also have a positive impact on dry mouth.

Learn more: What happens during a teeth cleaning? »

Lowering blood sugar levels can have a huge impact on improving dry mouth. You can decrease blood sugar through the following lifestyle habits:

  • consuming low-sugar foods and drinks
  • consuming high-fiber foods
  • eating a diet high in healthy fats and proteins
  • take medications as prescribed
  • monitor your glucose regularly

Scientists are also investigating new ways of treating diabetes. A 2016 study found that oral moisturizing jelly reduced symptoms of dry mouth in 118 older adults who were experiencing dry mouth. More research is necessary, but this initial study’s findings are promising.

Untreated dry mouth can lead to oral health issues. Saliva breaks down carbohydrates and contains cells that can help fight off pathogens that may lead to infection. When you have less saliva, glucose and germs can build up in your mouth. This can lead to the buildup of plaque, which may lead to cavities.

Unmanaged dry mouth can lead to the following complications over time:

  • gingivitis, or inflamed, irritated gums due to the presence of bacteria
  • periodontitis, or inflammation around the tissue that surrounds the teeth
  • thrush, or candidiasis, which is the growth of excess fungus in the mouth
  • bad breath that persists after brushing teeth and excessive cleaning

In some severe cases, the salivary glands can become infected. A dry mouth can also lead to problems with sleeping and affect your sense of taste.

Dry mouth is typically manageable. If you have diabetes, controlling your glucose levels may be your best tool for managing dry mouth. Take medication as advised and avoid sugary food and drinks. If dry mouth continues to be a problem, speak with your doctor. It may be a side effect of your medication. Regular visits to the dentist may also help treat your dry mouth.

Dry mouth isn’t usually a serious complication of diabetes, but it can lead to health issues if you don’t get treatment for it.

Many methods of treating dry mouth are also methods of preventing it. Follow these tips to prevent dry mouth:

  • Avoid spicy and salty foods, especially if they’re causing mouth pain.
  • Use a humidifier in your home. Increased moisture in the air may help relieve dry mouth.
  • Avoid caffeine, tobacco, and beverages that contain alcohol. These can make dry mouth worse.
  • Drink eight to 10 glasses of water per day. Staying hydrated can reduce your risk of dry mouth.
  • Go to your dentist twice per year for regular teeth cleanings.