Dry Mouth (Xerostomia) Latest Facts: What Health Issues Can cause It?

What Causes Dry Mouth?

Known medically as xerostomia, dry mouth occurs when a person does not produce enough saliva. It is a common issue that may affect persons of virtually all ages and is a symptom of a condition in some cases.

Dry Mouth

Dry Mouth. Image Courtesy of www.scientificanimations.com

Saliva is the fluid that the mouth produces to keep itself and the teeth healthy. Your mouth becomes dry or feels sticky when its levels are low. However, that is probably the least of your worries if you experience such; there are more serious complications that may follow if not treated.

Some of the common symptoms that you may observe with dry mouth include:

  • Bad breath
  • Dryness in your nose
  • Dry feeling in your throat
  • Difficulty speaking, chewing, or swallowing
  • Increased thirst
  • Taste disorders
  • Hoarseness
  • Tingling or burning sensation in the mouth, particularly on the tongue
  • Mouth sores and/or cracked lips

Find out what dry mouth can be a sign of, plus what you can do about it.

What Causes You to Have Dry Mouth

This problem usually results when anything interferes with the ability of the salivary glands to produce enough saliva. The following are some of the common factors that may cause this to happen.


These are probably the leading single factor that causes people to have dry mouth. The phenomenon is a side effect of many drugs that people often take. You may notice this being indicated for some medications that you use.

Among the medicines (both OTC and prescription) that can produce this side effect are those used to treat:

The use of sedatives and muscle relaxants can produce dry mouth as a side effect as well.

Health conditions

If you are experiencing dry mouth, it might be a sign of a medical condition in some cases. You may find that somewhat surprising in that it is often seen as something to not worry much about.

However, the medical conditions that it could point to include Sjogren’s syndrome. This is an autoimmune condition that involves the body attacking the glands responsible for moisture production. You may suspect this disorder more if you are a woman that has lived through menopause.

Other health conditions that may produce dry mouth as a symptom include:

Breathing through your mouth, such as when you have nasal congestion, may also reduce the saliva in your mouth. Snoring could lead to the same effect as well.

Medical treatments

Certain medical treatments can impede having an adequate level of saliva in your mouth. Radiation therapy, for example, can cause this – in particular, the type that is done for head and neck cancer. This treatment may bring about temporary or permanent damage to salivary glands, thereby causing a considerable reduction in saliva production.

Similarly, chemotherapy drugs for the treatment of cancer can have dry mouth as a side effect. These could alter saliva production and change the makeup of the fluid. These issues may resolve, however, once you stop your treatment.


While dry mouth can affect both old and young persons, it is particularly more common among older adults. Around one in every five persons in this group has the problem, according to Cleveland Clinic. This is partly because such persons are more likely to take medicines that may lead to it.

The ability of the body to effectively process medications is believed to reduce as people get older. Nutritional problems and long-term health conditions further increase the risk of dry mouth with aging.

Substance use

The use of certain recreational drugs may produce dry mouth. For instance, methamphetamine (meth) can cause a serious case of this problem plus severe tooth damage – a phenomenon sometimes called “meth mouth.”

Chewing or smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol can adversely impact the amount of saliva in your mouth. They can, therefore, both cause and aggravate symptoms of dry mouth.

In addition to the foregoing, damage to nerves around your head and neck (from an injury or surgery) can also lead to dry mouth. Dehydration is among the common causes as well.

What Can You Do to Control Dry Mouth?

Thankfully, there are steps you can take on your own to improve the symptoms of dry mouth. They include:

  • Drinking lots of water – It will help to ensure that you are properly hydrated. Make provision for water or other sugar-free fluids that you can sip on at frequent intervals throughout the day.
  • Avoiding caffeinated, acidic, or alcoholic beverages – You should keep away from alcohol, fruit juices (and other acidic beverages), and products containing caffeine, including coffee, tea, and chocolate. These can dry out your mouth. Frequent urination results in water loss from drinking alcohol, for instance.
  • Stimulating saliva flow – Chewing sugarless gum, particularly those having xylitol, can help against dry mouth by improving saliva flow. Sucking on sugar-free candy or ice pops – or simply ice cubes – can help in the same way. There are also OTC sprays and rinses that assist with increased saliva production.

Among the other things you can do to manage dry mouth at home are:

  • Brushing with toothpaste that contains fluoride
  • Eating soft, moist foods (of not higher than room temperature)
  • Avoiding dry or salty foods
  • Using a cool-mist humidifier to add moisture to the air in your home
  • Keeping away from mouthwashes containing alcohol or peroxide

When to See a Doctor

You should speak with your doctor if you feel the dry mouth is a symptom of a medical condition or linked to a medication you’re taking.

It is important to consult your healthcare provider immediately if you experience severe dry mouth symptoms. You should do the same as well if you experience this issue while having risk factors for HIV.

Make sure you do not stop taking any prescribed medications even if you suspect that they might be to blame for your dry mouth. Speak to your doctor first for him or her to review the medicines and maybe prescribe different ones.

You may receive a prescription for a drug to treat any underlying condition when you visit your healthcare provider.

Left untreated, dry mouth can lead to the following complications, among others:

  • Increase in tooth plaque
  • Tooth decay and gum disease
  • Nutritional problems due to difficulty chewing and swallowing
  • Yeast infection in the mouth
  • Mouth sores, including at the corners, or cracked lips





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