Dry mouth occurs when there is not enough saliva production in the mouth. Salivary production can decrease due to medications, cancer or other pathology, alcohol-containing mouth rinses, medical conditions, illegal drugs or medical treatments – such as radiation therapy. Not only is dry mouth uncomfortable, it can also make teeth more susceptible to decay due to lack of “washing” by saliva.
What causes dry mouth? Dry mouth or xerostomia is due to salivary gland shutdown, decreasing the amount of saliva flow inside of your mouth. It can be due to uncontrolled or underlying health conditions, but may also be associated with common everyday prescription medications, nutritional practices and the oral hygiene products that you use. Dry mouth can also appear suddenly, such as with anxiety or nervousness.
Signs And Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of xerostomia are very straightforward:
- Dry mouth
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
- Oral tissues such as lips and cheeks sticking together
- Redness or irritation of the oral tissues
- Increase in tooth decay
- Gum disease
- Oral ulcers
- Bad breath or halitosis
- Inhibited sense of taste
Dangers And Health Risks
Our body produces saliva to keep the mouth lubricated throughout the day. This allows us to speak properly, chew and swallow our food, and reduce the amount of tooth decay by keeping a constant flow of saliva over the surfaces of the teeth. When we have a decreased amount of saliva in our mouth it can cause problems like raw, sore gums or tongue and an increased level of tooth decay.
Erosion of the teeth and gums may occur due to lack of lubrication in the mouth. (1)
A decrease in saliva may also contribute to periodontitis or gum disease, due to the body’s inability to protect the areas around the teeth from increased plaque buildup. (2)
Dry mouth can sometimes be a warning sign for conditions such as:
- Sjögren’s syndrome
- Lambert-Eaton syndrome
How To Prevent Dry Mouth
- The prevention of dry mouth involves careful reading of prescription and over-the-counter medication labels. Literally hundreds of everyday drugs such as decongestant use may cause dry mouth.
- Use alcohol-free oral hygiene products. Many over-the-counter mouth rinses contain alcohol, which may kill of bacteria but also dry out your mouth. When the mouth is dry, there may be an increased risk of decay or infection due to the washing action of saliva.
- Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water. If you allow yourself to become dehydrated or don’t have a nutritionally balanced diet, your saliva flow may be compromised. Avoid salty foods.
- Keep your mouth free of bacteria. Boost your oral hygiene in order to help do the job of your saliva, thoroughly removing plaque buildup from around the teeth and gums.
- Using essential oils as part of your oral care routine can help increase your saliva production.
Most treatment for dry mouth involves home tips and over-the-counter products that are targeted toward alleviating the symptoms of dry mouth. Common over-the-counter dry mouth remedies include:
- Artificial saliva
- Oral sprays, rinses or gels
- Chewing Xylitol containing gum
Mouthwash for dry mouth or toothpaste for dry mouth may help to a degree, but many people complain that the products leave their mouth feeling slimy.
- Frequent sipping of water
- Using essential oils as part of your oral hygiene routine (3)
- Management of gum infections and periodontal disease symptoms
- Decreased salt intake
- Avoiding medications such as decongestants that dry up saliva output
Candies and mints that contain sugar are not recommended as these can cause an increased rate of decay, especially for people who suffer from dry mouth.
In severe cases, prescription medication such as pilocarpine or cevimeline may be used to manage xerostomia and get rid of dry mouth.
Your Questions About Dry Mouth Answered
I have an extremely dry mouth. What can I do?
First of all, take a look at any medications that you’re using which could be contributing to dry mouth. Secondly, discontinue using any alcohol-containing products such as mouth rinses. Lastly, treat any symptoms of gum disease that you are experiencing and use an essential oil additive to help boost your saliva production.
Why does my mouth get dry?
Our mouth gets dry due to lack of stimulation or blockage of the salivary glands. This can be due to gum disease, systemic conditions, prescription medications or even anxiety.
Why do I have dry mouth in the morning?
When your body is at rest, your salivary glands are as well. It is very common to have a drier mouth in the morning, but it should not be so dry that you can’t easily move your mouth without a sip of water.
Is dry mouth a symptom of diabetes?
Glucose levels may also alter your salivary flow. So yes, dry mouth is sometimes seen in people with diabetes.
I have dry eyes and a dry mouth. What does this mean?
This could be a condition of medications that you are taking, or a symptom of underlying conditions such as Sjögren’s syndrome.
I have dry mouth during pregnancy. Is this normal?
Dry mouth may accompany many other conditions that you experience during pregnancy. Because of the increased risk of dental problems at this time – due to any vomiting – dry mouth may make it easier for you to develop dental problems. Stay hydrated and treat your symptoms of xerostomia. They ought to subside after you finish your pregnancy or breastfeeding.
I function okay with dry mouth. Do I still need to worry about it?
Dry mouth should not be ignored. Having chronic dry mouth can increase your risk for dental diseases like tooth decay and periodontitis. It may also be a symptom of an underlying health condition.
What types of gum or mints are okay to suck on with dry mouth?
Always choose sugar-free products, and ones that contain Xylitol if possible. These strengthen your teeth and won’t contribute to decay. If you’re looking to freshen your breath as well as treat dry mouth, you can use a drop or two of essential oils on your toothbrush two or three times a day.
- Melville, N.; Inflammation Key To Understanding Periodontal Disease.; web 24 Jan 2012.
- Ram, S., Kumar, S., Navazesh, M.; Management Of Xerostomia And Salivary Gland Hypofunction.; J Calif Dent Assoc. 2001 Sep;29(9):656-9.
- Gutkowski, S.; Why, Dry?; web. 24 Jan 2012.