Dry Mouth (Xerostomia) – Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

What Is Dry Mouth?

Dry mouth, xerostomia, is when you don’t produce enough saliva to keep your mouth moist.  Dry mouth is commonly called cottonmouth, as it can feel like you have just swallowed a ball of cotton.  Many people only experience dry mouth temporarily, such as when they first wake up or if they are nervous or stressed.  If a person constantly has a dry mouth, this can have a negative effect on the overall health of the teeth and mouth.  Although dry mouth may not seem like a serious condition, it can greatly affect a person’s quality of life.

What Are The Symptoms Of Dry Mouth?

Many people are not aware that they have dry mouth until there is a 50% reduction in saliva.  Some common symptoms of dry mouth are:

  • A dry or sticky feeling in the mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dry, cracked lips, especially at the corners of the mouth
  • Bad breath (also called halitosis)
  • Changes or difficulty tasting food
  • Frequently feeling thirsty
  • Difficulty with chewing and speaking
  • Mouth sores, red tongue
  • Tingling or burning sensation, especially on the tongue
  • Dry, hoarse throat.

What Causes Dry Mouth?

Dry mouth is a common side effect of many medications.  In fact, there are around 1,000 medications that can cause xerostomia. Some common medications that cause dry mouth are antihistamines, antidepressants, blood pressure medications, pain relievers, and diuretics.

Woman with dry mouth holding a glass of water

Dry mouth is also associated with age.  As we get older, we tend to produce less saliva which leads to xerostomia.  Older people are also more likely to have medical conditions and take medications that cause dry mouth. There are a number of medical conditions that can cause dry mouth.  These include Sjogren’s syndrome, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and HIV/AIDS.  Chemotherapy and radiation therapy to treat cancer can also lead to a dry mouth.  This can be temporary or permanent depending on if any damage was caused to the salivary glands.

People with sinus problems also have a tendency to develop a dry mouth.  If you have a blocked nose, you are forced to breathe through your mouth which makes it become dry.

Why Do I Get A Dry Mouth While Sleeping?

While you sleep your body doesn’t produce as much saliva.  Lack of saliva throughout the night leaves you with a dry mouth when you wake.  People who breathe through their mouths at night are also more likely to get a dry mouth while sleeping.

This is why it’s very important to brush your teeth before going to sleep as saliva naturally protects your teeth, which it is unable to do while you’re sleeping.  Saliva flow will return to normal once you start eating and drinking.  Brushing your teeth in the morning will also get rid of morning breath, which is caused by dry mouth.

What Is The Treatment For Dry Mouth?

It is important to get treatment for dry mouth as it can lead to tooth decay, halitosis, and gingivitis, not to mention the discomfort it causes.  The following tips can help the body produce more saliva or can relieve some of the symptoms of xerostomia.

  • Avoid mouthwashes that contain alcohol as they are very drying.  Instead, use products such as Biotene, which are designed for people with dry mouth
  • Take frequent sips of water throughout the day
  • Use saliva substitute products
  • Brush your teeth regularly with fluoride toothpaste to protect them.  Toothpaste which doesn’t contain a foaming agent, sodium lauryl sulfate, are more comfortable to use for people with xerostomia
  • As dry mouth sufferers are more likely to develop other dental problems, ensure you visit your dentist regularly to have your teeth checked and cleaned
  • Ask your doctor to change medications that could be causing dry mouth
  • Chew sugar-free gum to increase saliva flow
  • Avoid caffeine, smoking and alcohol which can cause the mouth to become drier
  • Avoid salty or spicy foods as they can be painful for dry mouth sufferers
  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air.