Dry Mouth: Causes and Treatment Options

Just about everyone has experienced a dry mouth at one point or another. Right when you wake up in the morning after breathing through your mouth all night, during long running workouts in the dry winters, or when you’re nervous or anxious about something. Those short moments of dry mouth aren’t something to be worried about, but if you start experiencing it constantly throughout the day, it can have adverse dental and overall health effects.

 

What is dry mouth?

Xerostomia, the medical term for dry mouth, is a condition where your salivary glands don’t make enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. It makes your mouth become unusually dry and uncomfortable. Causes and treatments can differ case to case, but it’s important to see your doctor or dentist if you suspect that you have dry mouth.

According to WebMD and Mayo Clinic, symptoms of dry mouth include:

  • Sticky, dry feeling in the mouth

  • Frequent thirst

  • Sores in the mouth, split skin at the corners of your mouth, and/or cracked lips

  • Dry feeling in the throat

  • Burning or tingling sensations on the tongue

  • Dry, red, and raw tongue

  • Problems speaking

  • Trouble tasting, chewing, and swallowing

  • Hoarse voice, dry nasal passages, and sore throat

  • Bad breath

  • Problems wearing dentures

  • Changed sense of taste (when accompanied with other symptoms)

 

What causes dry mouth?

Dry mouth can be caused by many medical, environmental, and lifestyle factors.

Medications:

Many over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs list dry mouth as a common side effect. Nearly 50% of Americans take at least one prescription drug a day. That statistic jumps to 90% for Americans over the age of 65.

Medications that cause dry mouth include antihistamines, antidepressants, diuretics, asthma treatments, muscle relaxers, sedatives and more. Over 500 different medications produce dry mouth as a side effect.

Dehydration:

When your body lacks the fluids it needs to function properly, it can’t produce the right amount of saliva your mouth needs to prevent dry mouth. Conditions that lead to dehydration-- fever, excessive sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, blood loss, and burns-- can also cause dry mouth.

Diseases and Infections:

Certain health conditions cause dry mouth as a symptom, ranging from common health issues such as hypertension, anemia, and diabetes, to more rare and serious illnesses like Sjögren's syndrome (when a person’s immune system attacks the body’s moisture producing glands, inhibiting the production of tears and saliva), Parkinson’s, stroke, HIV, Alzheimer’s, and some cancers.

In addition to these diseases causing dry mouth, the treatments associated with these illnesses can also cause dry mouth. Radiation and chemotherapy are common culprits of dry mouth in cancer patients. If you are experiencing dry mouth with other symptoms, see your doctor immediately to rule out any serious underlying causes.

Nerve Damage:

Injuries and/or surgeries that result in nerve damage to your head and neck area can result in dry mouth.

Lifestyle Choices:

Saliva production can greatly depend on how you live your life and the overall state of your health. Smoking, chewing tobacco, and taking recreational drugs can all affect how much saliva your make. Even something as simple as breathing through your mouth or living in a very dry climate can contribute to saliva production and dry mouth.

 

Why is dry mouth a problem for my dental health?

Saliva is critical in maintaining your oral hygiene. It helps prevent tooth decay by neutralizing acids, limiting bacterial growth, and washing away food particles. The enzymes in saliva aid in digestion, and it makes food easier to chew and swallow. Dry mouth can lead to plaque build-up, gum disease, and other mouth infections, such as thrush. It makes dentures harder as well, which can cause problems in nutrition for older patients.

Dry mouth also causes bad breath, and no one wants that.

 

What are my treatment options?

This greatly depends on what is causing your dry mouth and how severe of a case you have. If you are taking a medication that is causing dry mouth, your doctor may prescribe a new medication or a different dosage help ease the side effects. There are many oral rinses available by prescription and over-the-counter. For extreme cases where eliminating the cause is not an option, a prescription drug specifically for dry mouth may be prescribed.

For temporary relief of dry mouth, there are many at-home remedies:

  • Sucking on sugar-free candy or chewing sugar-free gum

  • Letting ice chips melt in your mouth

  • Constant sips of water

  • Breathing through your nose

  • Using a humidifier to increase the moisture in the air

  • Fluoride rinses and toothpastes

No matter what treatment course you and your doctor/dentist decide on, make sure you are regularly brushing your teeth, flossing, and scheduling dental checkups.

 

Need dry relief, or have questions about how it may affect your dental health?