Dry Mouth: Causes, Remedies, and Treatments

Dry Mouth: Causes, Remedies, and Treatments article banner

Dry mouth is a daily problem that makes you feel uncomfortable while you swallow, eat or speak. It is a condition in which you do not produce enough saliva (spit) to keep your mouth feeling wet. Your physician or nurse do not always talk about dry mouth as a side effect when they give you a prescription for medicine, but dry mouth can be caused by the medicine you take. Whatever you do, don't stop taking your medicine but mention dry mouth to your nurse as soon as you can. Dry mouth can also be a sign of diseases and other conditions like diabetes - so make sure you tell your nurse or dental professional about dry mouth if it becomes a problem for you.

Dry Mouth Causes

Stress and anxiety can contribute to dry mouth, as can the medications you might take for them. It is important to communicate with your dental professional about issues concerning your overall health because anything that increases your risk for dry mouth also increases your risk for gum disease. Your dental professional may advise you to pay special attention to your daily oral care routine, and to schedule an additional dental cleaning during a time of increased risk, such as during pregnancy or before starting chemotherapy.

If you suddenly experience symptoms of dry mouth, it may be because you’ve started taking a certain type of medication. Medications are a major cause of dry mouth. In fact, medications cause approximately 90 percent of all cases of dry mouth, according to the Academy of General Dentistry. You may not be able to discontinue your medication, but you should keep your dentist informed when something in your overall health changes and you start taking medication. For example, antidepressants, antihistamines, anti-inflammatories and anti-hypertensive medications are just some of the many types of drugs that can contribute to a dry mouth. In addition, chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, kidney disease, or lupus and medical treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, can also cause it.

If your dry mouth is persistent and severe, talk to your doctor about whether you can reduce the dose of the medication that is causing the problem, or possibly switch to a different medication. Everyone responds differently to medications, so switching to another drug that serves the same purpose may yield the same benefits with less dry mouth.

Medical Issues Related to Dry Mouth

Most of us don’t think about the moisture in our mouths until our mouths become dry. A variety of conditions can cause dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, including the following:

  • Cancer treatments: If you have any type of cancer of the head or neck and you receive radiation therapy, dry mouth is a common side effect because the radiation damages the salivary glands in addition to destroying the cancer. Some medications used to treat cancer in any part of the body can also cause dry mouth.

  • Prescription medications: Hundreds of common medications, including many antidepressants and medications for high blood pressure, can contribute to a dry mouth. If you take medications that seem to make your mouth feel dry, be especially vigilant about tooth brushing and proper flossing.

  • Nerve damage: Some types of injuries to the head or neck can damage the specific nerves that tell the salivary glands to produce saliva.

  • Chronic illness: Diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and Parkinson’s disease are among the diseases that can contribute to a chronic dry mouth. Some older people suffer from Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease characterized by extremely dry eyes and a dry mouth. Sjogren’s occurs in older adults and is more common in women than in men. The exact cause remains unclear, but if you or someone you know develops Sjogren’s, paying attention to dry mouth is extremely important. Even someone with a long life history of dental hygiene can develop tooth decay simply because of the excessive lack of saliva that accompanies this condition.

  • Drug use: Methamphetamines have been associated with dry mouth.

Dry Mouth Symptoms

Does your mouth feel dry and sticky when you first wake up in the morning? Do you feel the urge to drink lots of water? Dry mouth can make it hard for you to swallow, chew your food or speak clearly. With a dry mouth your teeth can decay very quickly, and sometimes there are no warning signs for this condition. Untreated dry mouth can also contribute to bad breath, and sometimes others will notice the stale odor.

  • Dry or sticky feeling in the mouth like your mouth is stuffed with cotton balls.

  • Burning feeling in mouth or tongue and sometimes tongue feels like shoe leather.

  • Difficulty or discomfort when chewing, swallowing or speaking.

  • Dry lips and throat or mouth sores.

Do I Have Dry Mouth?

If you think you may have dry mouth but are unsure, ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Are you taking one or more prescription drugs on a daily basis?

  2. Does your mouth feel sticky and dry when you wake up in the morning?

  3. Do you have difficulty swallowing or speaking?

  4. Do you sip a lot of water to keep your mouth from feeling dry?

  5. Does your throat feel dry and does your mouth sometimes burn?

  6. Does your tongue burn or has it changed to a darker red color?

  7. Does your tongue sometimes feel as dry as shoe leather?

  8. Do you sometimes get mouth or tongue sores that will not go away?

If you responded “yes” to one or more questions, talk to your physician and visit your dental professional for information on what you can do to help alleviate the problem.

Dry Mouth Remedies and Treatments

  • Sip room-temperature water throughout the day and night and carry a water bottle with you at all times.

  • Avoid drinking lots of water at an extreme temperature (very hot or very cold).

  • Only drink sugarless drinks and avoid carbonated beverages.

  • Include a beverage like water during meals. Drink water before, during and after the meal.

  • Chew sugarless gum or suck on sugarless candy to stimulate salivary flow.

  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol. Both alcoholic beverages and smoking dry out the mouth and make you more susceptible to gum diseases and oral cancer. Select an alcohol-free mouth rinse if you’re in the habit of using a mouthwash. Read the label and make sure alcohol is not listed as an ingredient.

  • Select an alcohol-free mouth rinse if you’re in the habit of using a mouthwash. Read the label and make sure alcohol is not listed as an ingredient.