The clinical name for dry mouth is xerostomia – and it results when the salivary glands in the mouth don’t produce enough saliva to keep the mouth moist. Chronic dry mouth can increase the amount of bacteria-containing plaque that builds up on your teeth, leading to tooth decay, gum disease and other oral health problems. Dry mouth can also increase your risk for painful mouth sores and small cracks at the corners or your mouth of on your lips. Sometimes, a fungal (yeast) infection known as thrush can develop in your mouth and produce white bumps and lesions on your tongue and checks – which can quickly become irritated and painful.
If you often feel a stickiness in your mouth or feel like your tongue is sticking to the roof of your mouth when you speak, you have dry mouth. But other symptoms of dry mouth may not be so obvious:
- Frequent thirst
- Bad breath
- A dry feeling in your throat
- Frequent sore throat
- A red and raw tongue
- Dry nasal passages
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- Impaired sense of taste
- Difficulty wearing retainers or dentures
- Frequently getting lipstick stuck to your teeth
What Causes Dry Mouth?
There are dozens of causes of dry mouth, but one of the most common is medication. There are literally hundreds of different prescription and over-the-counter drugs that can decrease saliva production, but some of the most common include:
- Antihistamines and decongestants
- Blood pressure medications
- Anticholinergic drugs (generally used to treat urinary incontinence, overactive bladder and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD)
- Stimulants used to treat ADHD and other disorders, such as Adderall
Other causes can include:
- Snoring and mouth breathing
- Underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and autoimmune disorders such as Sjogren syndrome or HIV/AIDS
- Radiation therapy (particularly for head and neck cancer)
- Tobacco and alcohol use
- Poor dental hygiene
Treating Dry Mouth
If your dry mouth is mild or you only experience issues occasionally, try some of these tips:
- Chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free hard candies to help increase the flow of saliva.
- Stop smoking and avoid all tobacco products, including chewing tobacco.
- Try a mouthwash made specifically to treat dry mouth. Look for those that contain xylitol. Avoid all mouthwashes containing alcohol because that will dry your mouth out further.
- Practice breathing through your nose, not your mouth.
- Sleep with a humidifier to keep the air moist.
- Reduce your intake of caffeine, as it can exacerbate dry mouth.
- Sip water continually during the day.
- Limit spicy, salty and hard-to-chew foods.
- Brush your teeth regularly – at least first thing in the morning and just before going to bed at night. Don’t forget to floss daily.
If dry mouth is a frequent problem, talk to your doctor to determine if an underlying health condition or a drug you are taking could be to blame. In some cases, there are medications your doctor may prescribe to help increase your production of saliva.
Finally, make sure you visit your dentist regularly. Even occasional dry mouth can increase your risk for tooth decay and gum disease, so taking a proactive approach to managing it and removing excess plaque buildup is critical to your oral health and well-being.
This article appeared in the February 2024 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.