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Ask our doctor

Dr Helen Lock, our new consultant, introduces herself and answers your question about dry mouth

Dr Helen joined Hospiscare in August 2021 but she is no stranger to our charity. After completing her medical degree, Dr Helen continued her medical training by working across the UK and New Zealand. Following this, Dr Helen spent eight years working across Devon’s hospices to complete her specialist palliative care training.

“This is my third time working at Hospiscare. I have always been welcomed warmly and made to feel like a real part of the team so I am delighted to continue working here long-term.”

Dr Helen completed an MA in Medical Ethics and Palliative Care, focussing on advanced care planning for patients at the end of their lives. Dr Helen explains, “I have a particular interest in caring for patients in the community and I will be working closely with Hospiscare’s community teams.

“Outside of work, I am kept busy with my two very energetic young sons!”

To welcome Dr Helen to her new role, we asked her to answer a question that many of our patients have:

I am often bothered by a dry mouth – what causes this and is there anything I can do?

We all notice that our mouths feel dry from time to time. For many of us it is short-lived and happens at particular times, for example, when we are feeling anxious or stressed. This is a normal response from our body to the situation and will pass when the source of stress is removed.

For other people, a dry mouth is a more persistent problem that can be caused by underlying medical problems or a side effect of medications.

Dry mouth can be distressing as it can make daily activities such as eating, speaking and sleeping more difficult, and people may feel that their sense of taste is altered. Saliva is also important for the health of our teeth and gums and has a role in the digestion of our food.

In people who are unwell or undergoing treatments such as chemotherapy, it is important to examine the mouth for problems such as mouth ulcers and oral thrush (a fungal infection that can cause white spots over the tongue and mouth). If these are present, then there are specific medications to treat these issues.

For a general dry mouth, I advise:

  • Regular sips of cool fluid
  • Ice chips or ice poles as these can be held in the mouth for longer than simple fluids
  • Pineapple juice or segments of fresh pineapple or melon to refresh a dry mouth
  • Sugar-free chewing gum
  • Lip balms to keep lips moist (do not use petroleum-based products if using oxygen therapy)
  • Saliva sprays or gels which aim to keep the mouth moist – available from a pharmacy or your GP
  • Ensuring good oral hygiene with regular brushing of teeth and dentures

Certain medications can contribute to a dry mouth. However, please do not stop any regular medications without prior discussion with a healthcare professional.