Diagnosing and Treating Dry Mouth

Diagnosing and Treating Dry Mouth

Find out why you can't ignore that dry, sticky feeling.

We all experience a dry mouth from time to time, usually due to intense thirst. When this happens, drinking a glass of water is the simple solution to restoring the moisture in your mouth. But for individuals living with xerostomia, also known as dry mouth, the symptoms, causes, and effects on health are much more complicated.

Why You Should Treat Dry Mouth

Dry mouth occurs when saliva (spit) stops being produced. Saliva is a key part of a healthy mouth because it washes away food and other debris and also takes care of the acid made by oral bacteria after we eat or drink. This helps prevent infection by controlling bacteria and fungi in the mouth1, and also helps protect against tooth decay. Saliva also improves your ability to taste and makes it easier to chew and swallow food. If left untreated, dry mouth can increase the risk of gum disease, tooth decay, and mouth infections, and also impairs proper nutrition2.

Symptoms of Dry Mouth

If you have dry mouth, you may have one or more of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Dry or sticky feeling in the mouth
  • Thick and stringy saliva
  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty chewing, speaking, and swallowing
  • Dry or sore throat
  • Hoarse voice
  • Dry or lined tongue
  • Altered taste
  • Problems wearing your night guard or dentures

What causes dry mouth?

Dry mouth is not a disease. It can be a side effect of a medical condition or medication, as described below.

  • Certain prescription and nonprescription drugs used to treat a wide variety of health issues such as depression, anxiety and other psychological disorders, allergies and colds, asthma, epilepsy, hypertension, diarrhea, nausea, and urinary incontinence.
  • A number of diseases: Sjögren’s syndrome, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, anemia, cystic fibrosis, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke, and mumps.
  • Medical treatments such as surgical removal of the salivary glands, chemotherapy, and damage to salivary glands from radiation to the head and neck.
  • Lifestyle behaviors such as smoking, chewing tobacco, and breathing with an open mouth.

What to Do About It

Treating dry mouth depends on what is causing it. There are a number of ways to help restore moisture to a dry mouth.

  • Increasing the amount of water you drink
  • Using sugar-free candy or gum to stimulate saliva flow.
  • Replacing moisture with artificial saliva and oral rinses.
  • Breathing through your nose, not your mouth.

Talk to your dentist or doctor

If you think you may have dry mouth, a health care provider can help to determine what is causing it, and recommend the appropriate treatment. They can also look to see if you have any oral problems as a result.

Dentist and patient smiling

This information is for educational purposes only and is not medical advice. Always consult with your dentist for appropriate examinations, treatment, testing and care recommendations.

Sources

1 Dental Health and Dry Mouth, WebMD, 2019, https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/

2 American Dental Association, https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/d/diet-and-dental-health, accessed May 2021