Dry mouth is also known as xerostomia. It occurs when salivary glands in your mouth do not produce enough saliva. This condition causes a parched, or dry, feeling in your mouth. It can also cause other symptoms, such as bad breath, a dry throat, and cracked lips.
Saliva is a necessary part of your digestion process. It helps moisten and break down food. It also works as a major defense mechanism to help your body maintain good dental health, protecting your mouth against gum disease and tooth decay.
Dry mouth isn’t a serious medical condition on its own. However, it’s sometimes a symptom of another underlying medical problem that requires treatment. It can also lead to complications like tooth decay.
What causes dry mouth?
Many things can cause dry mouth. It often results from dehydration. Some conditions, such as diabetes, can also affect your saliva production and lead to dry mouth.
Some of the other causes of dry mouth include:
- smoking tobacco
- using marijuana
- taking tranquilizers
- breathing through your mouth
- taking certain medications, including some antihistamines, antidepressants, and appetite suppressants
- undergoing radiation therapy on your head or neck
- some autoimmune disorders, such as Sjögren’s syndrome
- Oral thrush (yeast infection in your mouth)
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Cystic fibrosis
- HIV and AIDS
Talk with your doctor before stopping any medications that may be causing dry mouth.
Home care tips for dry mouth
Dry mouth is usually a temporary and treatable condition. In most cases, you can prevent and relieve symptoms of dry mouth at home by doing one or more of the following:
- sipping water often
- sucking on ice cubes
- avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco
- limiting your salt and sugar intake
- using a humidifier in your bedroom when you sleep
- taking over-the-counter saliva substitutes
- chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugarless hard candy made with Xylitol
- using over-the-counter toothpastes, rinses, and mints
It’s also important to brush and floss your teeth daily and to get a dental checkup twice per year. Good oral care can help prevent tooth decay and gum disease, which can result from dry mouth.
If your dry mouth is caused by an underlying health condition, you may require additional treatment. Ask your doctor for more information about your specific condition, treatment options, and long-term outlook.
Treatment for dry mouth
Your doctor will likely review any medications you’re taking to see if any may be causing your dry mouth. They may give you a different amount to take or change your medication to relieve symptoms.
Your doctor may also prescribe artificial saliva or medications to increase saliva production in your mouth.
Talk with your doctor or dentist if you notice ongoing signs of dry mouth. These include:
- dry feeling in your mouth or throat
- thick saliva
- rough tongue
- cracked lips
- trouble chewing or swallowing
- altered sense of taste
- bad breath
If you think that medications are causing your dry mouth, or if you notice other symptoms of an underlying condition, make an appointment with your doctor.
Your doctor can order blood tests and measure the amount of saliva you produce to help find out the cause of your dry mouth and suggest treatment options.
If you’ve had persistent dry mouth, it’s also important to see your dentist to check for signs of tooth decay.
You can often take care of dry mouth at home. If symptoms continue, though, talk to your doctor. They can check for any underlying conditions or change medications that might be causing your symptoms.
If you have dry mouth, make sure to take good care of your teeth by brushing, flossing, and seeing your dentist regularly. This can help prevent tooth decay and gum disease caused by dry mouth.