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Where can patients find help for dry mouth?

Very often, dentists will be the first health care providers to pick up on signs of dry mouth. They often receive samples of over-the-counter products formulated for dry mouth and may be more familiar with the newer topical fluoride products or moisturizing agents.

They can help to select the most effective products. More often than not, if other prescription medications are needed, they will refer patients to their primary care providers. These drugs (pilocarpine or cevimeline) have side effects and must be used with caution in some patients; therefore, it is better for the patients if these are prescribed and monitored by the primary doctor who is more closely involved with their medical history.

However, most doctors should be able to provide a basic screening for dry mouth by asking questions about when and how dry mouth bothers the patient. They can check their salivary glands for tenderness or enlargement and order lab tests to screen for certain antibodies associated with some autoimmune disorders.

Patients may be referred to ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists or oral surgeons for further evaluation of dry mouth. Oral surgeons (or other oral specialists) can perform tests to measure salivary flow rate, examine the quantity and quality of saliva produced, and if warranted, do a biopsy of the minor salivary gland (along the inside of the lower lip) to check for presence of lymphocytes, a component of SS and other diseases.

Lastly, there are Dry Mouth Clinics available at some of the larger medical centers, dental schools, and hospitals that do a lot of research.

[Comment: The majority of the information presented in this article on Dry Mouth is based on the book cited below. However, some personal experiences and suggestions are included in the last section for patients and where they can go for help. The Sjögren's Book is recommended reading material and the clearly marked chapters help patients hone in on specific topics.]