When your mouth doesn't produce enough saliva, this is called dry mouth or xerostomia. It can range from being a mild inconvenience that happens occasionally, to something that can cause serious dental problems.
If you get a dry mouth and lips often then it could be a sign of deeper medical issues. In this article, we're going to cover:
- The symptoms you might experience
- Different things that cause this condition
- How it can affect your dental health
- Dry mouth remedies
We'll also answer some common questions that you might have about the problem.
Although not particularly pleasant, this condition isn't something that should cause you to worry. It's worth understanding what might be causing the problem for you, then you can check what treatments or remedies might help. Here we'll go through everything you need to know about this condition to help you get a better understanding of the issue, and to help you figure out how to fix dry mouth if possible.
Table of contents
What is dry mouth?
Put simply, dryness in the mouth occurs when your salivary glands aren't making enough saliva to keep your mouth comfortable. Your saliva plays a really important role in your mouth. Without you noticing it, your saliva:
- Helps prevent tooth decay by neutralizing acids in the foods that you eat
- Limits the bacteria in your mouth which can lead to bad breath, or halitosis
- Washes away bits of food as it swills around your mouth, keeping things clean
- Improves your ability to taste by moving food and drink over your whole tongue
- Aids your digestion by making food in your mouth moist and easier to swallow
Most people have probably experienced this condition, even if just for a short time. Your mouth might feel like there is cotton inside, that's why it's sometimes called “cottonmouth”. The saliva in your mouth might also feel stringy and you can get dry and cracked lips.
Dry mouth causes
There's quite a range of things that can cause this condition. Some are very easy for you to fix and others, especially those that cause chronic dry mouth, might need the involvement of your doctor. There are various treatments and remedies that can help with the dry mouth symptoms you're experiencing, but first, you'll need to know what's causing the problem before you'll know how to treat it.
- Medication to treat high blood pressure
- Tablets that treat anxiety
- Some treatments for Parkinson's
- Muscle relaxants
- Over-the-counter pain medication
A lot of people find that it is caused by medicines that they take. If you start taking a new medicine and then your mouth is suddenly dry, you can check the information leaflet to see if that medicine causes sudden dry mouth. There are lots of medications that cause dry mouth, including:
Make sure that you tell your doctor about any medication that you're taking if you're worried about this condition. They may be able to adjust your dosage or how you take it if it causes you a lot of trouble.
Some health conditions are also associated with reduced saliva production. For example, one of the most common symptoms of diabetes is dryness in the mouth, and research is showing that dry mouth is associated with some COVID-19 cases.
Some other related conditions include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Oral candidiasis (thrush)
- Sjögren's syndrome
- Cystic fibrosis
Snoring and mouth breathing may also make your mouth dry, and these can be caused by a few different medical conditions. One solution to these problems is using mouth tape while you sleep. If you've had an injury to your head and neck there's a chance of nerve damage that reduces the amount of saliva you produce, too.
Finally, there are lifestyle factors that can cause this condition. When you aren't drinking enough water you can get dehydrated, and this inevitably makes your mouth dry. Drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes or vaping can also make your mouth dry temporarily, along with caffeine. Other drugs that are associated with this condition are cannabis and methamphetamine, or crystal meth.
Older people with dry mouth
Xerostomia does tend to occur in older people, however, it's not an inevitable fact of aging. The correlation is thought to stem from the fact that the elderly tend to take more prescription medicines which can cause dryness in the mouth, as well as being more likely to have associated long-term health problems.
The chances of suffering from Sjögren's syndrome also increase with age. Around 90% of people diagnosed are women with an average age of 50; it's associated with menopause. The syndrome affects fluid-producing parts of the body and its most noticeable symptoms are extreme dryness in the mouth and eyes.
This video has lots of useful information about Sjögren's syndrome, including other symptoms to look out for:
It's estimated that around half of people with xerostomia could have thyroid disease. Hypothyroidism is associated with a slow metabolism, and doctors believe that this could be what leads to slower production of saliva in patients with this condition.
As part of cancer treatment, you may have to undergo chemotherapy or radiotherapy. These can cause your mouth to get dry but the problem usually subsides after your treatment has finished.
During chemotherapy, the treatment that you receive is likely to change the composition and rate of production of your saliva. It's likely the last thing you want to experience when going through cancer treatment, but your mouth should return to normal once your course of treatment is complete.
When receiving radiotherapy treatment around your head and neck area, you will also likely notice your saliva production reduces, but again this should also go back to normal after treatment. It is possible that you might start to suffer from xerostomia up to one year after your cancer treatment, and in this case, the damage done to your saliva glands might be irreversible. There are plenty of ways to alleviate dry mouth, which we'll go through a little further down.
CPAP and dry mouth
People who begin therapy with a CPAP or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Machine, often do so because sleep apnea can seriously disrupt sleep. But a CPAP can cause some dry mouth when sleeping, and that won't go very far in helping you sleep better either.
If you are experiencing Cpap dry mouth, there are a couple of things you can try:
- Using a CPAP with a humidifier
- Switching to a machine that fits over both your mouth and nose
- Making sure your mask fits comfortably and properly
Dry mouth symptoms
The most common dry mouth symptom is a reduction in the amount of saliva in your mouth. This in itself might not be immediately noticeable, but there are lots of indicators that you will probably become aware of.
This condition can result in one, some, or all of these symptoms of dry mouth:
- A feeling of dryness or stickiness in your mouth
- Saliva that feels thick or stringy
- Bad breath, or halitosis
- Difficulty speaking, chewing, and swallowing
- A dry mouth and throat that's sore and hoarse
- Grooves or cracks in the surface of your tongue
- Food tasting different than to normal
- Problems with your dentures staying in place
- Lipstick sticking to your teeth, if you wear it
- Your mouth looking red, shiny, and sore
Although not really a symptom of dry mouth, you might feel the urge to drink more water than normal too. Doing this might even be enough to be a dry mouth cure, if it's caused by simple dehydration.
Risks to your dental health
Because your saliva is an important part of your dental health, when you are producing less of it your teeth and gums can suffer. As we've mentioned, saliva neutralizes acids from the food you eat and sweeps away food debris after you've eaten, preventing the build-up of dental plaque and reducing chances of cavities and decay.
If you have constant dry mouth, you will need to make sure you pay more attention to your oral health. Speak to your doctor or dentist if you have concerns about your teeth relating to your xerostomia. You'll likely be advised to visit your dentist at least twice a year – possibly more.
You can also help protect your teeth by using a toothpaste that is high in fluoride and free from SLSs. SLS, or sodium laurel sulfate, might make any irritation in your mouth worse. Sensodyne Sensitive Toothpaste doesn't contain SLS and has a high fluoride content of .25%, making it a good toothpaste for dry mouth sufferers.
When necessary, your dentist might also give you fluoride trays to put over your teeth at night. Adding extra fluoride into your routine will help keep your teeth strong and counteract some of the negative effects that come along with dry mouth.
What dry mouth treatments are available?
If it's disrupting your life, you're probably wondering how to cure dry mouth. You can go down the route of pharmacy-bought medicines, and there are also some home remedies for dry mouth that may help to relieve your symptoms. If you suspect that it's one of your prescription medications causing your condition, talk to your doctor. They may be able to adjust your dosage, change your medicine, or give you the medicine in a different form to relieve your symptoms.
If that doesn't help, or your dry mouth is caused by something else, you can try some other dry mouth remedies. Your doctor might recommend medication such as Pilocarpine, which stimulates saliva production. This will probably be prescribed if you have Sjögren's syndrome or permanent problems after radiotherapy.
Dry mouth spray and mouthwash
Some of the most popular products are sprays and mouthwashes. One key thing when looking at a dry mouth rinse or spray is to avoid any that contain alcohol; they'll make your mouth drier. There are products on the market that can help with relief, such as Dr. Brite Dry Mouth Spray.
This dry mouth remedy works by moisturizing the inside of your mouth with natural ingredients like aloe and coconut oil. If you decide to give this product a try, use code DRBRITE10 to get 10% off your purchase.
A common and much recommended dry mouth treatment is to use products that contain xylitol. This is a sugar replacement that is known to increase saliva production, while also protecting teeth from decay. It's usually found in sugar-free chewing gum, such as the natural xylitol in this ACT dry mouth moisturizing gum. Gum itself is known to increase the amount of saliva that you produce, so it's a good idea all around.
If you're not a fan of chewing gum, or can't use it because you wear dentures or braces, you could also try ACT dry mouth lozenges. They are flavored with xylitol and have a soothing mint flavor.
OraCoat XyliMelts are another option that you can try. They are sugar-free dry mouth lozenges and release xylitol as well as humectants and lubricants to make your mouth moist. One Amazon reviewer enthusiastically says:
“I am so pleased that I have finally found a treatment for my nighttime dry mouth. One Xylimelt adhered in my mouth will usually allow me to sleep all night without being awakened by a very dry mouth.”
Here's a run-down of the dry mouth remedies that you can buy in a pharmacy or shop that can help relieve your symptoms:
When to use?
How it works
Biotene dry mouth mouthwash
Up to 5 times per day
When your mouth feels dry
Adds humectants and lubricants to your mouth
Biotene mouth spray
3-5 times per day
When your mouth feels dry
Adds humectants, lubricants and xylitol to your mouth
As needed, effective for 1-4 hours
When your mouth feels dry, or before going to bed
Adds a high dose of xylitol to your mouth, stimulating saliva
Xylitol chewing gum
When your mouth feels dry
Chewing makes your mouth produce saliva, and xylitol produces more saliva
As directed by your doctor
As directed by your doctor
Stimulates your salivary glands to produce more salive
Relieving cracked lips
As well as affecting your mouth, xerostomia can make your lips cracked and sore. Along with using the other treatment available, you can use a moisturizing lip balm to keep them soft and less likely to crack. A popular choice is Burt's Bees natural beeswax lip balm, which is long-lasting, comes in a range of flavors and is available in a stick or a tin.
Natural and home remedies for dry mouth
When the mouth isn’t producing enough saliva, it can make things uncomfortable. Dry mouth makes you feel like your tongue is sticking to everything it touches, you can’t talk or eat normally, and your lips can be chapped and begin to crack. If you’re struggling from dry mouth, try these at-home remedies:
- Limit caffeine intake
- Switch to a mouthwash made for dry mouth
- Increase saliva production by chewing sugar-free gum
- Review the medications you’re currently taking with your doctor, like allergy medicine, that can cause dry mouth
If your dry mouth lasts longer than a few days and makes it uncomfortable to talk or eat, make an appointment to see your dentist.
Dr. Ania Mohelicki, Dr. Ania
If you suffer from dry mouth, there are lots of other things that you can build into your daily routine to relieve the discomfort. And you may be wondering how to get rid of dry mouth naturally. Some things you can try include:
- Take steps to reduce or stop snoring: Snoring can give you a dryness in the morning. If you can find a cure for your snoring, this may also serve as a cure for dry mouth.
- Put a humidifier in your bedroom: A major cause of dry mouth at night, and general dehydration, can be a dry atmosphere in your bedroom. Adding a humidifier could relieve symptoms.
- Suck on ice chips: Throughout the day you can keep your mouth moist by sucking on ice so there is always water in your mouth. It will also keep you hydrated since you're swallowing extra water.
- Increase your water intake: If you think your dry mouth is caused by dehydration, you can monitor your water intake. Doctors recommend drinking around 2 liters per day.
- Change your diet: Eating salty and sugary foods can make your mouth dry and dehydrate you, so try to reduce your intake. Avoiding drinks with caffeine and cutting out alcohol and tobacco should also help.
We have established that the causes of dry mouth are numerous, as are the symptoms which can affect your day-to-day life. If you're experiencing discomfort from a dry mouth at night or have constant dry mouth, you may find some dry mouth relief from store-bought treatments and even some simple lifestyle changes like drinking more water.
However, dry mouth can be a result of underlying medical conditions or a reaction to certain medicines so if the problem persists you should consult your doctor. They should be able to help you get the symptoms under control.
Either way, it's important to address your xerostomia so that it doesn't start to have a negative effect on your overall oral health.
I have constant dry mouth, should I be worried?
When your mouth is constantly dry it could be an underlying symptom of a bigger issue. If you're concerned you should seek medical advice; there may be dry mouth medication that could help you.
What causes dry mouth at night?
There are lots of causes of dry mouth at night. These could include the medicines that you take, the room you sleep in having a dry atmosphere or snoring. Check the side effects of your medicines with your doctor and if they aren't the cause, you can try some home remedies, like making sure you're drinking enough water throughout the day and consider putting a humidifier in your bedroom.
NCBI: The effect of a chewing gum on salivary secretion, oral mucosal friction, and the feeling of dry mouth in xerostomic patients. Consulted 25th January 2020.
US National Library of Medicine: Xylitol Disk Use in Adults With Dry Mouth. Consulted 25th January 2020.
The Oral Cancer Foundation: Xerostomia. Consulted 25th January 2020.
Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging: High Prevalence of Thyroid Disease and Role of Salivary Gland Scintigraphy in Patients with Xerostomia. Consulted 25th January 2020.
Agingcare.com: Dry Mouth in the Elderly Can Have a Big Impact on Senior Health. Consulted 25th January 2020.
Mayoclinic.org: Sjogren's syndrome. Consulted 25th January 2020.
Mayoclinic.org: Dry mouth. Consulted 25th January 2020.