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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.

Why is oral hygiene important?

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

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

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).

Changes in saliva

FDP toothbrushYou 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.

How do I keep my mouth clean?

What will help a dry mouth?

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

What will help with thick saliva?

What will help reduce excess saliva?

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

Things you can do to moisten your mouth

Talk to your dentist, radiation team, or speech language therapist 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 speech-language therapist about using oral lubricants such as GC Dry Mouth Gel or Biotene Oral Balance.

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 2018.


Image courtesy of David Robertson at

Page reference: 78460

Review key: HISWD-121957