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 your health are much more complicated.
Why you should treat dry mouth
Dry mouth occurs when saliva stops being produced. Saliva is a key part of a healthy mouth because it washes away food and other debris. This helps prevent infection by controlling bacteria and fungi in the mouth.* That’s why, if left untreated, dry mouth can increase the risk of gum disease, tooth decay and mouth infections.**
Symptoms of dry mouth
- Sticky, dry or burning feeling in the mouth
- Trouble chewing, swallowing, tasting or talking
- Cracked lips
- Sores or infections inside the mouth or on the tongue
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.
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.
*National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. "Dry Mouth," August 2014.
**National Institutes of Health. "Dry Mouth: What Causes Dry Mouth?" October 2015.