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HealthInfo Canterbury

Oral hygiene & saliva management

Oral hygiene means keeping your mouth (teeth, tongue, gums, and roof of your mouth) clean and healthy. Your mouth should be pink and moist.

Good oral hygiene maintains healthy teeth and limits the growth of bacteria in your mouth.

Oral hygiene is important for everyone, particularly people who have swallowing difficulties. It is very important for people who cannot eat and drink (nil by mouth, or NBM).

The bacteria in your saliva, food, and liquids can go into your airway. This is called aspiration. This may increase the risk of lung infection.

Illness or medication can affect the cells that line your mouth and cause unpleasant side effects such as changes in taste, sore or bleeding gums, dry mouth, oral thrush, redness, swelling, and ulcers. Taking good care of your mouth will help to stop this from happening.

Changes in saliva

You may have a dry mouth, or excess saliva. It can be runny, or thick and stringy. You may find it difficult to swallow your saliva. This can lead to drooling, especially if your facial muscles are weak.

Keeping my mouth clean

If you have dentures (false teeth)

How to help a dry mouth

Note: If you're using thickened fluids, some of these tips are not appropriate – talk to your speech-language therapist before trying them.

Read more about dry mouth.

How to help with thick saliva

How to reduce excess saliva

Medical treatments are also available to help with saliva changes – talk to your doctor about the options.

Ways to moisten your mouth

Talk to your dentist, pharmacist or radiation team about a mouthwash that will be suitable.

Chewing gum

Chew sugar-free chewing gum, preferably containing xylitol. You can get this from a supermarket or chemist.

Moistener, lubricating gel, or artificial saliva

Talk to your dentist or pharmacist about using oral lubricants such as GC Dry Mouth Gel or Biotene Oral Balance. Try coconut oil.

Other remedies

You should also talk to your dentist about how to protect your teeth from the dental decay that often happens when you have a dry mouth.

Written by speech-language therapists, Canterbury DHB. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed October 2020.

See also:

Dry mouth


Page reference: 78460

Review key: HISWD-121957