What Causes Dry Mouth?

What Causes Dry Mouth?

Do you ever experience the uncomfortable sensation of not having enough saliva in your mouth? If so, you may have a condition popularly known as “dry mouth.” But is dry mouth just an annoyance, or cause for concern? Will it go away on its own eventually, or do you need to seek treatment? And if so, what can happen if you don’t?

Also known as xerostomia, dry mouth is a condition in which the salivary glands don’t make enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. Saliva serves many vital functions. As Delta Dental notes, it contains small amounts of important substances — including mucus, proteins, minerals, electrolytes, antibacterial compounds and enzymes. “Saliva moistens the mouth for comfort, lubricates as you chew and swallow, and neutralizes harmful acids. It also kills germs and prevents bad breath, defends against tooth decay and gum disease, protects enamel, and speeds up wound healing.”

Common Symptoms of Dry Mouth

According to Mayo Clinic, if you’re not producing enough saliva, you may notice these signs all or most of the time:

  • Dryness or a feeling of stickiness in your mouth.
  • Saliva that seems thick and stringy.
  • Bad breath.
  • Difficulty chewing, speaking and swallowing.
  • Dry or sore throat and hoarseness.
  • Dry or grooved tongue.
  • A changed sense of taste.
  • Problems wearing dentures.
  • Lipstick sticking to the teeth.

Causes of Dry Mouth

Dry mouth is a symptom of a condition, not a condition itself — which is good to keep in mind as you read the following typical causes, courtesy of Mayo Clinic:

Medications Hundreds of prescription medications, including many over-the-counter drugs, produce dry mouth as a side effect. Among the more likely types to cause problems are some of the drugs used to treat depression, high blood pressure and anxiety, as well as certain antihistamines, decongestants, muscle relaxants and pain medications.

Aging Many people experience dry mouth as they age. Contributing factors include the use of certain medications, changes in the body’s ability to process medication, inadequate nutrition and having long-term health problems.

Cancer therapy Chemotherapy drugs can change the nature of saliva and the amount produced. This may be temporary, with normal salivary flow returning after treatment is completed. Radiation treatments to the head and neck can damage salivary glands, causing a marked decrease in saliva production. This may be temporary or permanent, depending on the radiation dose and area treated.

Nerve damage An injury or surgery that causes nerve damage to the head and neck area can result in dry mouth.

Other health conditions Dry mouth can be due to certain health conditions, such as diabetes, stroke, yeast infection (thrush) in your mouth or Alzheimer’s disease, or due to autoimmune diseases, such as Sjogren’s syndrome or HIV/AIDS. Snoring and breathing with your mouth open also can contribute to dry mouth.

Tobacco and alcohol use Heavy use of alcohol, and smoking or chewing tobacco can increase dry mouth symptoms.

Recreational drug use Methamphetamine use can cause severe dry mouth and damage to teeth, a condition also known as “meth mouth.” Marijuana also can cause dry mouth.

Treatments for Dry Mouth

If left untreated, dry mouth can set up an environment that promotes tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease, as tooth enamel and the gumline do not have the protective effects of healthy saliva production. However, this is not to suggest that saliva alone is enough to reduce or eliminate plaque. Following a regular oral hygiene regimen and twice-yearly checkups and cleanings by your dentist are still essential!

The tendency for many people is to try to treat dry mouth on their own through home remedies and over-the-counter products. However, seeing your dentist is essential to diagnosing the specific cause — and, if necessary, referring you to your healthcare professional. Scheduling semi-annual checkups with your dentist ensures your oral health is closely monitored along with your overall health. Our blog post — “Can Your Dentist Help You with Dry Mouth?” — offers additional details.

Colgate provides the following list of products your dentist may recommend to help with dry mouth or prevent associated problems:

Dry mouth gel These gels help stimulate saliva production or mimic some of the effects of saliva by keeping your mouth moist.

Medicated mouthrinse Some mouthrinses on the market contain ingredients that can help fight dry mouth or prevent tooth decay. Note: Read the label and avoid mouthwashes containing alcohol, as they can make dry mouth worse.

Fluoride products Toothpaste and other items that contain fluoride will help strengthen teeth and prevent cavities.

Sugar-free gum It may surprise you to know that chewing sugar-free gum is an effective way to promote saliva production.

You may have heard about artificial saliva (the dry mouth gel listed above is a type of this). It is a saliva substitute that temporarily moistens and lubricates the mouth and creates a protective film. Artificial saliva is usually a mix of buffering agents, cellulose derivatives and flavoring agents. Saliva replacements are available as liquids, sprays, gels, oils, mouthwash, chewing gums and toothpaste. Your dentist will recommend the type best suited to your need.

The Take-Home Message

Dry mouth is a condition that may seem more annoying than serious, but needs to be addressed appropriately and treated. As you’ve learned, dry mouth often has an underlying health issue as its cause. Consulting your dentist about this condition should be your first step in getting the right diagnosis and treatment so you can enjoy optimum oral and overall health!

It is our mission at NK Family Dental to provide the highest quality and most compassionate oral care to our Chicago patients, including dental and periodontal services. Our practice is trusted for advanced oral surgery procedures and comfortable root canal treatment.

Our team of experienced, dedicated dental professionals will help address your oral health concerns, and determine the best solution for you based on your individual situation. We strive to identify treatment options that fit your needs. Our dental specialists include our general dentist, Dr. Nilofer Khan, our endodontist, Dr. Sabek, and our periodontist, Dr. Amir Danesh. Dr. Danesh is a board-certified periodontist and Diplomat of the American Board of Periodontology. He has contributed to the publication of two books, as well as published over 20 papers in prestigious dental research journals.

We serve the neighborhoods of Logan Square, Bucktown, Humboldt Park, and Wicker Park with the dedication that’s earned us the reputation as the Best Dentist in Chicago!

We understand that the main concern you may have is cost, which is why we accept all major PPO plans for dental insurance and also offer our in-house dental plan. Please see our financing page for more information.

Schedule your visit through ZocDoc, or contact us directly. We look forward to treating you soon!


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