Woman drinking water

Dry mouth causes and what you can do about them

If you’ve noticed that you have a very dry mouth, it could simply be a case of dehydration. However, a dry mouth might be an indicator that you’re not producing saliva in the way you used to; if your mouth is constantly dry, it might mean an underlying problem with your oral health. So, what does dry mouth mean for your overall mouth wellbeing and what dry mouth treatments are available?

This article will help to explain the common dry mouth causes and what you can do to help make your mouth feel more comfortable again.

What does a dry mouth mean?

Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is a condition that leads to a lack of saliva in the mouth1. If you have a very dry mouth, thick saliva is a common symptom. Other symptoms include:

  • Bad breath: Saliva helps to wash away any lingering food and bacteria, helping to avoid bad breath. If you are suffering from dry mouth, bacteria that contributes to bad breath can build up.
  • A sore throat: Dryness and lack of saliva can make your throat feel rough and scratchy.  This can be made worse by breathing through your mouth.
  • Gum disease: Gum disease is a risk when experiencing dry mouth, as bacteria that  are normally washed away by saliva can linger in the mouth.
  • Tooth decay: With dry mouth, saliva that would normally help to keep your mouth clean isn’t produced and this leaves your teeth susceptible to decay2.

Common dry mouth causes: Why is my mouth so dry?

A very dry mouth is more common as you get older, affecting around one in five elderly people3. Persistent sufferers should visit their doctor or dentist to determine the dry mouth cause, as salivary glands that are not working properly can be the result of an underlying medical problem. If you’re wondering ‘why do I have a dry mouth?’, some common dry mouth causes include: 

  • Lifestyle: Often, dry mouth is a symptom of certain lifestyle choices, such as smoking or chewing tobacco, as this can affect the normal production of saliva in your mouth.
  • Dehydration: If you have a dry mouth, saliva production may be low due to dehydration. This occurs when you don’t have enough fluid in your body to produce normal levels of saliva, which can stem from conditions such as fever, vomiting, or diarrhoea, or even just not drinking enough water.
  • A blocked nose: Constantly breathing through your mouth can sometimes cause dry mouth.
  • Certain medications: Dry mouth can be a common side effect for many prescription and non-prescription drugs, including antihistamines, antidepressants, and diuretics. If you find your mouth is constantly dry after starting these medications, speak to your doctor.
  • Nerve damage: One of the reasons dry mouth may be affecting you is due to damage to the nerves in the head or neck from injury or surgery.
  • Certain medical treatments: Damage to the saliva glands from radiation and chemotherapy treatments to the head and neck can affect the amount of saliva produced.
  • Certain medical conditions: Sometimes dry mouth is a symptom of an underlying medical condition. If you have a persistent dry mouth, visit your doctor.

Dry mouth treatment

Establishing what's causing you to have a dry mouth could enable you to improve your symptoms. If your doctor is able to determine that a particular medicine has caused your dry mouth, then they may suggest a lower dose or offer an alternative medication.

If you have dry mouth, maintaining good oral hygiene will help prevent the risk of associated dental problems. Visiting your dentist regularly to keep on top of your oral health will allow your dentist to identify problems early on and treat them without delay.

There are a number of things you can do to try to improve the situation and your dentist may be able to recommend various dry mouth treatments. There are lots of things you can do to help keep your mouth moist, reduce discomfort, improve your general wellbeing, and maintain good oral health, including the following:

  • Drink more water: Increase the amount of fluid you are consuming each day. 
  • Chew gum: Sugar-free gum can help to stimulate glands to produce more saliva. 
  • Breathe through your nose: Trying to breathe through your nose rather than through your mouth will help to prevent your mouth from drying out. 
  • Use a SLS free toothpaste: Most toothpastes contain SLS, a foaming agent that may cause irritation and dryness in the mouth. Toothpastes without SLS, like Zendium, are recommended for people who suffer from dry mouth. Saliva is important to keep the mouth healthy – including through enzymes and proteins in saliva that naturally protect the mouth. Zendium contains natural enzymes and proteins to protect the mouth naturally and uses mild ingredients to respect the mouth’s delicate tissues. 
  • Make some lifestyle changes: Avoid smoking, alcohol (including mouthwashes containing alcohol), and drinks with caffeine, which can all make a dry mouth worse. 
  • Use a humidifier: This will add moisture to the air in your bedroom, and help to reduce your dry mouth symptoms during the night.  

Having a dry mouth not only brings discomfort but can also cause problems with oral health, so don't suffer in silence. Discussing your concerns with your doctor or dentist may provide a dry mouth remedy that works to improve the production of saliva in your mouth, while healthy lifestyle changes and good oral care choices will all serve to benefit you in the long-term.

Diagram of enzymes in saliva

References

1 Medical News Today – Everything You Need to Know About Dry Mouth

2 NHS Inform – Dry Mouth

3 Australian Dental Journal – Dry Mouth and Older People

The advice in this article does not constitute medical advice; it is solely available for information purposes. We recommend that you consult your dentist if you are experiencing any tooth or gum problems.