Dry Mouth: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Dry Mouth: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment


Is your mouth dry when you wake up in the morning? If so, you’re not alone. In fact, many people suffer from dry mouth syndrome (Xerostomia) and don’t even know it. Xerostomia occurs when the salivary glands in your mouth produce less saliva than they are supposed to. There are several causes of dry mouth, such as certain medications, salivary gland problems, and radiation therapy.

What is dry mouth?

Xerostomia, or dry mouth, arises when there is not enough saliva in your mouth. Saliva is the fluid produced by the salivary glands in your mouth. Saliva helps keep your mouth clean and moist. It helps prevent tooth decay by offsetting acids produced by bacteria, decreasing bacterial growth, and rinsing away food particles. Saliva also increases your ability to taste, chew and swallow. Furthermore, saliva enzymes aid in digestion.

Why is Xerostomia a problem?

Xerostomia is common among older adults because they are more likely to take medications that can cause dry mouth. If dry mouth is left untreated, some risk factors may occur, such as:

  • Mouth sores
  • Yeast infection
  • Sores or ripped skin at the corners of your mouth
  • Cracked lips
  • Poor nutrition

Besides these dry mouth symptoms mentioned above, dry mouth also causes many other dental problems such as tooth decay, gingivitis, gum disease, and mouth infections such as thrush.

How do I know if I have a dry mouth?

The primary symptom of dry make is a lack of saliva and a dry feeling in the mouth. This will make the skin in and around your mouth dry and tight. Sores may form at the corners of your mouth. Your lips may become cracked. Your tongue may feel dry. It may also be difficult to swallow and talk. Here is a list of symptoms of dry mouth you should look out for:

  • Dryness or sticky feeling in your mouth
  • Saliva that seems thick and stringy
  • Bad breath
  • Mouth difficulty chewing, speaking, and swallowing
  • Dry or sore throat
  • Unpleasant taste
  • Dry or grooved tongue
  • A changed sense of taste
  • Dry feeling in your nose
  • Hoarseness
  • Burning sensation on your tongue
  • Increased thirst
  • Lip, tongue, and mouth sores or pain

Why do I get dry mouth?

A dry mouth appears when the salivary glands in your mouth do not produce enough saliva to keep your mouth moist. Although dry mouth is a health condition, it is not one that typically appears alone. It is usually caused by another health condition or an autoimmune disease.

The salivary glands may not function correctly due to:

  • Dehydration: You can avoid waking up with a dry mouth by staying hydrated. Drink plenty of water during the day!
  • Prescription Drugs: Many medications, including many over-the-counter drugs as well as prescription drugs used to treat depression, high blood pressure, anxiety, decongestants, antihistamines, muscle relaxants, and pain medications, can all have this side effect.
  • Aging: Many people begin to experience dry mouth as they get older.
  • Cancer Treatment: Chemotherapy drugs can cause temporary dry mouth. Radiation treatment in the head and neck area can damage your saliva glands, causing a marked decrease in saliva production.
  • Nerve damage: Damage to the nerves in your head or neck area can cause Xerostomia.
  • Other health conditions: Xerostomia can be due to certain health conditions, such as diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, or autoimmune diseases.
  • Snoring: Breathing and snoring with your mouth open can contribute to dry mouth.
  • Tobacco and alcohol use: Dry mouth occurs from drinking alcohol, long-term smoking, and chewing tobacco.
  • Recreational drugs: Methamphetamine and marijuana use can cause severe dry mouth and damage to teeth.

How Is Xerostomia treated?

Treatment depends on the causes of dry mouth. Generally, treatment focuses on three areas:

  • Managing other medical conditions: If you think your dry mouth is caused by a specific medication you’re taking, talk to your doctor. The doctor can adjust the dose you’re taking or switch you to a drug that doesn’t cause dry mouth.
  • Preventing tooth decay: You can prevent tooth decay by creating an excellent oral hygiene routine. Brush your teeth at least two times a day with toothpaste that contains fluoride. Be sure to floss your teeth every day. Visit your dentist for a cleaning and check-up at least twice a year. 
  • Stimulate saliva flow: Your doctor may prescribe an oral rinse to keep your mouth wet and restore moisture. There are toothpaste, mouthwashes, and moisturizing gels made specially to combat dry mouth.

What Can I Do To Prevent Dry Mouth?

The best way to treat dry mouth is to figure out what is causing it and treat the overall problem. In the meantime, you can do some things to relieve dry mouth temporarily. But for chronic dry mouth, you need to address its cause and see a dentist.

To relieve your Xerostomia:

  • Suck on sugar-free candies or sugarless gum to produce more saliva. 
  • Limit your caffeine intake.
  • Avoid mouthwashes that contain alcohol.
  • Stop tobacco use.
  • Sip water regularly.
  • Try products containing xylitol, such as Mouth Kote or Oasis Moisturizing Mouth Spray.
  • Try a mouthwash designed for dry mouth.
  • Maintain a good oral hygiene routine to keep your teeth healthy.
  • Avoid using over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants.
  • Try to avoid mouth breathing.
  • Use a room humidifier to add moisture to the air.

Saliva is vital to keeping your teeth and mouth healthy. If you suffer from dry mouth, taking these extra steps will protect your oral health:

  • Avoid or limit sugary or acidic foods and drinks.
  • Brush with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Visit your dentist at least twice a year.

When to See a Doctor

If these steps don’t improve your dry mouth, talk to your doctor or dentist.

Your dentist will review your physical symptoms at your appointment, including looking at saliva output, sores, and gum and teeth health. The dentist may ask about your dental history, request a blood sample or a biopsy to measure your saliva production, conduct an imaging test to check your salivary glands, and review all your prescription medications and over-the-counter medications. Once they find the underlying condition, they will offer you treatments to combat Xerostomia.