Woman drinking waterDry mouth is an uncomfortable feeling that can make a drink of water feel like heaven. But what causes dry mouth? Well, it varies from person to person. Getting to the root of your dry mouth can help you treat it. Most of the time, dry mouth can be handled with home remedies, but if the condition persists or gets worse, talk to your dentist or primary care physician for evaluation and recommendation of further treatment options.

Causes of Dry Mouth

Dry mouth can occur when the glands in the mouth that make saliva are not working properly. Some common causes include nervousness, stress, certain medications, radiation/chemotherapy, smoking and methamphetamine use, and autoimmune disorders like Sjorgren’s syndrome.

Sjogren’s syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disease that can cause dry eyes, dry mouth, fatigue and joint pain. Oral issues that occur are dry mouth, swollen salivary glands, and increase in tooth decay and gum disease. Conduct good oral hygiene procedures and see your dentist for regular professional cleanings.

  • Medications – Xerostomia is a side effect of more than 400 medications, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). Medications often cause the condition by limiting the amount of saliva produced by the salivary glands. Some medications that can lead to dry mouth include treatments for high blood pressure, depression and cancer. If you think your dry mouth is connected to a medication you’re taking, talk to your doctor about your options.
  • Smoking and Drinking – If you smoke or drink, dry mouth is likely to follow. That’s because smoking can slow down saliva production, and alcohol can dry out the mouth and aggravate your symptoms. Poor saliva production, coupled with dry mouth and tobacco use, can easily lead to a troublesome case of bad breath as well.
  • Dehydration – Dehydration is another common cause of dry mouth and can be a result of not getting enough fluid or of losing too much. If you’re suffering from a stomach bug, for example, you might lose a lot of fluid due to vomiting, and you might not replace the fluid because you feel too nauseated to do so. A high fever can also leave you dehydrated. Additionally, you might suffer from dehydration and dry mouth if you exercise on a hot day and sweat profusely.

Treating Dry Mouth

Treatment for dry mouth depends on the cause. If your mouth is dry due to dehydration, you can drink water and other fluids to rehydrate the body. Your doctor might adjust the dose of the medication you’re taking if it’s causing xerostomia. Your doctor may also prescribe a medicine that encourages saliva production.

Quit using tobacco products altogether. Smoking can lead to lung damage, tooth decay, heart disease and other issues, so a little dry mouth is the least of your worries. And, if you do drink alcohol, alternate each drink with a bottle of water to stay hydrated.

Proper dental care is necessary to prevent tooth decay and gum disease connected to dry mouth. Brush your teeth regularly and use toothpaste that contains fluoride. Floss daily, too. If you use mouthwash, ensure that it doesn’t contain alcohol, which can make dryness worse.

Determining the cause of your dry mouth will bring you one step closer to treating and solving it. To help ease the feeling of dryness in your mouth, remember to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Avoiding foods and substances that dry out the mouth — such as caffeine, tobacco and alcohol — can also help reduce the unpleasantness of xerostomia.

There are a number of steps you can take to help minimize dry mouth, including:

  • Sipping water or sugarless drinks often and during meals
  • Avoiding drinks with caffeine, such as coffee, tea and some sodas
  • Chew sugarless gum or suck on sugarless hard candy to stimulate saliva flow. Look for products that contain Xylitol such as Spry gum. Xylitol is said to contribute to salivary production while releasing anti-cavity properties as well.
  • Ask your dentist about products for dry mouth. There are a number of over the counter products for treatment of dry mouth as well as some prescription remedies as well.

Remember, while dry mouth can be annoying to deal with, it can also be detrimental to your teeth and gums and treating dry mouth early can prevent a lot of oral issues down the road.

Chelsea Brooks is a dental hygienist at the University of Vermont Medical Center Dental and Oral Health practice.

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