Occasional suffering from dry mouth is a common problem that a nice drink of water can usually remedy. But for many, a drink of water does not help. They likely suffer from long-term, chronic dry mouth—a condition known as xerostomia—that occurs when the saliva glands do not make enough saliva to keep the mouth and tongue moistened.
Saliva is necessary for proper chewing, swallowing, tasting foods, and talking. All these activities of daily living are difficult for people who suffer from chronic dry mouth. Saliva has many properties that help keep teeth and gums healthy by neutralizing acids produced by bacteria and preventing tooth decay by washing away food debris and bringing disease-fighting substances across your mouth to prevent cavities and other infections¹.
Common dry mouth causes
The exact reasons for dry mouth are not always clear. Dry mouth might be a symptom of many different conditions. Understanding the main dry mouth causes helps physicians and dentists develop an appropriate dry mouth treatment plan that fits the unique situation of each patient.
Here are some of the most common dry mouth causes.² ³ ⁴
Medications used for conditions such as depression, high blood pressure, diuretics, some painkillers, and antihistamines
Smoking and using smokeless tobacco, which has a drying effect on the tissues in the mouth as well as contributing to other infections and oral cancers
Alcohol consumption or excessive caffeine intake
Aging, usually because of adverse effect of medications
Dehydration that causes a dry, sticky mouth or a swollen tongue
Snoring and mouth breathing
Diseases such as Sjogren’s Syndrome, cancer, HIV, and diabetes
Chemotherapy that damages salivary gland function, which may be temporary and resolve after treatment ends
Radiation therapy that damages or destroys the salivary glands
Regardless of the reasons for dry mouth, it is important to recognize the symptoms and seek treatment. Insufficient saliva flow in your mouth can cause both dental and medical problems if not addressed. Increases in plaque and tooth decay, mouth sores, and oral thrush are common problems caused by dry mouth⁵.
Dry mouth symptoms
Dry mouth has typical symptoms outside of the obvious dry feeling in your throat. You may experience some of the following as well:⁶ ⁷
Burning feeling in the mouth
Cracks in the lips or at the corners of the mouth
Difficulty chewing, tasting, or swallowing particularly dry, crumbly foods such as crackers and cereals
Dry, rough tongue
Intolerance for spicy, sticky, or sour food and drinks
Lack of taste when eating
Pain or a burning sensation in the mouth or on the tongue
Painful denture sores and difficulty with denture retention
Painful tongue and a need to drink water, particularly during the night
Scratchy, sore throat
Sticky, dry mouth
Thick, stringy saliva
Many things may cause you to develop dry mouth, such as certain medications. However, it is important to tackle the issue head-on with help from your dentist, as dry mouth can lead to larger problems such as tooth decay.
10 common dry mouth remedies
Dry mouth remedies may vary depending on its underlying cause. If the cause can be identified, dry mouth treatment becomes much easier.
For example, if a certain medication has dry mouth as a side effect, speak to your doctor about alternative medications. Sometimes, simply changing to a different prescription helps relieve the dry mouth. Under your primary doctor or dentist’s supervision, you might have to try out medication and dosage changes to make sure the condition the drug is treating remains under control while, at the same time, alleviating the side effect of the dry mouth
If you have a medical condition, such as Sjogren’s Syndrome, HIV, or thrush (a yeast infection inside the mouth) that is causing the dry mouth, make sure your doctor knows about your symptoms. She might want to prescribe something that will increase your saliva flow to counteract the dryness caused by the disease.
There are medicines and products available to combat dry mouth caused by radiation and chemotherapy. Some will help stimulate saliva production. Others simply use artificial saliva to help moisten the tissues.
If you have not had any chemotherapy or radiation treatments, are not on any medications that have dry mouth as a side effect, and do not have any diseases that typically affect the salivary flow, there are still dry mouth remedies available to use at home to help counteract the symptoms.
Remember that how to get rid of dry mouth depends largely on its underlying cause. The goal of dry mouth treatment is to help identify the cause, relieve the pain and discomfort, and help prevent complications like cavities and gum infections from occurring.
Here are ten tips to help deal with dry mouth symptoms.
1. Chew sugar-free gum
Chewing sugar-free gum or hard candy can help stimulate the salivary glands, alleviating the symptoms associated with dry mouth. Try to find a brand sweetened with xylitol, which is a natural sugar alcohol that prevents cavities.⁸
2. Avoid alcohol-based mouthwashes and alcoholic drinks
Mouthwashes that contain alcohol can be overly drying, so you might want to opt for an alcohol-free mouthwash, or a brand designed especially for dry mouth. Just like with sugar-free candy, some products contain xylitol, which is an ingredient recommended by dentists, helping you give the extra benefit of fighting against tooth decay. Both alcoholic and caffeinated beverages can contribute to dry mouth. If you have dry mouth symptoms, cutting back on alcohol and caffeine consumption is an easy first step to help alleviate the symptoms. Alcohol in any form has a drying effect, so even low alcoholic drinks like beer or wine can cause dry mouth symptoms.
3. Drink water
Sipping water throughout the day can help combat dry mouth. If you find it difficult to up your water intake, try keeping a reusable water bottle with you at all times that you can refill when needed.
Unfortunately, both alcoholic and caffeinated beverages contribute to dry mouth⁹, so avoiding them may help your symptoms in the long run.
4. Breathe through your nose, not your mouth
Many people breathe through their mouths, which can cause throat irritation in addition to dry mouth¹⁰. Mouth breathing can be a habit or can be due to a medical condition. Whatever the cause, breathing through the mouth can cause irritations in the throat as well as dry mouth.
Even if you do not think you are a mouth breather, if you frequently wake up with a parched mouth or throat, you are probably breathing through your mouth at night. If this is the case, use a room humidifier to help add extra moisture to the air, and be sure to breathe through your nose during the day.
If you breathe through your mouth during the day, do your best to break the habit. If you cannot stop the habit on your own, you might have a nasal obstruction and will need to see a physician.
If this problem persists, you may want to discuss the problem further with your doctor or dentist, as you may be sleeping with your mouth open because of a problem like sleep apnea.
5. Stop tobacco use
Cigarettes and chewing tobacco are harmful to your health in many ways, and dry mouth is one of them. In addition to dry mouth, tobacco use has been proven to cause several other dental problems including the following:¹¹
Stained teeth and tongue
Dulled sense of taste and smell
Talk to your doctor about strategies for quitting this bad habit, especially if you need help breaking your nicotine addiction.
6. Watch what you eat
Avoid sugary, sticky, and spicy foods. Sweet, sticky foods are difficult to chew and swallow if you have a shortage of healthy saliva. Not only that, but they also help contribute to tooth decay.
Heavily spiced foods, like hot peppers, chili sauce, and curries, might cause pain in the oral tissues in people with dry mouth.
Much like alcohol, acidic foods such as citrus fruits and citrus juices can help dry the mouth and cause a burning sensation in the tissues. Stick with less acidic fruits like berries, bananas, and apples.
Smoothies made with plain yogurt, frozen blueberries, peanut butter, and almonds or other combinations are a perfect treat. As noted earlier, spicy, acidic foods can burn the soft tissues in the mouth and help cause pain in people with dry mouth.
7. Avoid carbonated drinks
Sodas contain acids in the form of carbonation. Those bubbles will likely cause your gums and other soft tissues in the mouth to burn and might cause cavities. Even ones that are sugar-free are not acid-free, typically contain carbonation and phosphoric acid. Drink water, unsweetened tea, and juices in place of sodas.
8. Replace the moisture in your mouth
There are products on the market to help combat dry mouth. Many are available over the counter at any local drugstore or grocery store. They are available in sprays, mouthwashes, toothpastes, and lozenges. Lozenges are especially helpful at bedtime to keep your mouth moist while you sleep.
Your dentist or physician can also prescribe products that help stimulate salivary flow and are stronger than ones you can buy without a prescription.
9. Develop better oral hygiene habits
Dry mouth can increase your chances of developing tooth decay, and oral infections¹². Therefore, it is important to practice good daily oral hygiene habits.
Brush after every meal and at bedtime. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush to brush your gums and keep them tough and healthy.
Floss at least once a day to remove bacteria and food debris from between your teeth where the brush cannot reach.
Use fluoride rinses and gels to help strengthen your enamel and prevent decay. These are typically available without a prescription and have a higher concentration of fluoride than toothpaste.
Use lip balms or petroleum jelly products to keep the lips lubricated.
10. Moisten dry foods with sauces, milk, or butter
If your diet allows it, creamy sauces poured over vegetables and meats can help those with dry mouth to chew and swallow more efficiently. Plenty of milk makes items like dry cereal easier to eat. Butter or healthy fats like olive and coconut oil spread on vegetables, pasta, or bread can help to lubricate the tongue and palate to help with swallowing.
How a dentist can help with dry mouth
Dry mouth is a nuisance without a single permanent fix, but there are several steps you can take toward helping stimulate those salivary glands and banishing dry mouth. Scheduling a dental appointment is the first step in finding a solution that works right for you.
Dry mouth that does not go away simply by drinking more water can be not only a nuisance but can also be detrimental to your dental and overall health. Do not ignore the symptoms of a dry mouth. Failure of the body to produce saliva can increase your likelihood of developing cavities and gum infections¹³. Watch for signs of oral fungus (thrush) or bacterial infections in your mouth. Your dentist can give you lots of tips and advice about methods to help relieve your dry mouth symptoms.
If you have dental insurance, your policy will probably cover at least part of the fees for an examination so your dentist can assess your reasons for dry mouth.
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This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.
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https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/s/saliva, accessed September 2020
https://www.cda.org/portals/0/pdfs/fact\_sheets/xylitol\_english.pdf, accessed September 2020
https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/s/smoking-and-tobacco, accessed September 2020