Dry Mouth: What It Is, Causes & Treatments

Saliva is necessary for our mouths to keep moist and clean, as well as to digest our food. It also helps to move bacteria out of the mouth so it doesn’t build up. When you don’t produce enough saliva, your mouth will become dry and uncomfortable. You may also notice certain oral conditions can develop as well.

dry-mouth treatment

There are many causes of dry mouth and many ways to treat it as well.

What Is Dry Mouth?

Dry mouth, also called xerostomia, is dryness or parched skin on the tongue and roof of the mouth. The condition is usually caused by a lack of saliva production from the salivary glands.

Apart from the general discomfort of a dry mouth, a lack of saliva is not good for your overall health. Saliva helps in the digestive process and the prevention of bacterial and fungal growth in the mouth. While this can happen to everyone on occasion, it is considered a concern when dry mouth is frequent and recurring.

Symptoms Of Dry Mouth

  • Sticky, dry feeling in the mouth
  • Frequent thirst, especially at night
  • Sores or infection in the mouth
  • Sores or split skin at the corners of the mouth
  • Cracked lips
  • Burning or tingling sensation in the mouth and especially on the tongue
  • Dry, red, raw tongue or sores on the tongue
  • Problems speaking or trouble tasting, chewing and swallowing
  • Hoarseness, dry, sore nasal passages and/or throat
  • Infection in the salivary glands
  • Bad breath
  • Increased tooth decay, plaque build up, gum disease

What Causes Dry Mouth?

Dry mouth can be caused by many different sources, but the most frequent is a side effect of prescription medication.

Many prescription and over-the-counter medications cause dry mouth, including antihistamines, decongestants, medications for high blood pressure, antidiarrhea medications, muscle relaxants, urinary continence drugs, some Parkinson’s disease medications, as well as a number of antidepressants.

Dry mouth can also happen as a side effect of many diseases and infections. Sjögren’s syndrome, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, anemia, cystic fibrosis, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, Parkinson’s disease, stroke and mumps are all examples of conditions that can cause dry mouth. Anxiety can also cause dry mouth, as can snoring and sleeping with your mouth open, both common symptoms of sleep apnea.

Radiation therapy to the head and neck can also cause damage to the salivary glands which results in lower saliva production. Chemotherapy is another common cause of dry mouth. Nerve damage to the head or neck, or having the salivary glands surgically removed, can also cause low saliva production resulting in dry mouth.

Tobacco use, smoking or chewing tobacco and cannabis products can affect the amount of saliva you make and increase or aggravate dry mouth symptoms. Avoid using tobacco products at all times, but especially if you are trying to treat dry mouth.

Being dehydrated is also a common cause of dry mouth. You may become dehydrated from a lack of fluids, fever, infection, diarrhea, vomiting, excessive sweating, burns and blood loss. Dehydration can be serious and cause long term concerns so it’s important that it is treated as soon as possible by a medical professional. The average adult should drink 2 to 4 litres of water a day. If you consume caffeinated beverages, you will need to replace water lost by increasing water intake.

Dry Mouth And Dental Concerns

Dry mouth is not only uncomfortable but it can also cause dental concerns such as an increase in gum disease, tooth decay, mouth infections, cavities and plaque build up. Saliva is required to move food and bacteria out of the mouth, which keeps it from sitting in one place and will buffer or flush acid out of our mouth.

How Do I Treat Dry Mouth?

In order to avoid these dental concerns and the discomfort of dry mouth, it’s necessary to determine the cause of dry mouth so it can be treated appropriately.

If your dry mouth is caused by a medication, your doctor can look to adjust your dosage or switch to another medication, if possible. When this is not possible, or when the dryness is caused by a medical condition, treatment or injury, you’ll need to focus on increasing saliva production. While there are medications to increase saliva production, there are also many ways you can increase saliva flow, and avoid further aggravating the issue.

Tips To Increase Saliva Flow

There are many things you can do to increase saliva flow or to help manage dry mouth. These include:

  • Drink lots of non-carbonated water
  • Use an oral rinse or spray
  • Try a toothpaste, moisturizing gel or mouthwash specifically for treating dry mouth
  • Chew sugar-free gum (preferably with xylitol)
  • Suck on sugar-free candies, popsicles or ice cubes
  • Brush with a fluoride toothpaste and use a fluoride rinse. Avoid mouth rinses or mouthwashes that contain alcohol or peroxide. We recommend CTX products.
  • Breathe through your nose as much as possible
  • Use a humidifier in your home (especially in your bedroom at night)
  • Avoid salty, dry and sugary food and beverages. Limit spicy foods
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and highly acidic beverages
  • Don’t use tobacco products
  • Visit your dentist regularly

Dry mouth can be unavoidable in some cases, but there are lots of ways you can improve your symptoms. Good oral hygiene is also critical when you are dealing with dry mouth as it makes you more susceptible to dental issues. Talk to your dentist about your symptoms and any support you need for managing your oral health.