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What Causes Dry Mouth? Symptoms & Treatment


If you’re a fan of sinking a few drinks when the weekend rolls around, chances are you’ll know what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night with a desert-dry mouth. If alcohol isn’t your thing, you’ll still have likely experienced the same feeling at the end of a day where you haven’t drank enough water.

Although a dry mouth is often just a sign of dehydration, persistent dryness can be a sign of a condition known as xerostomia which occurs as a result of reduced or absent flow of saliva. It can cause discomfort, difficulty swallowing, and can have a significant impact on your oral health in the long run. This is why it’s important to treat dry mouth in order to protect your teeth and to prevent the discomfort and other negative effects of xerostomia.

Keep reading to find out the most common causes of dry mouth and the most effective dry mouth treatment options to improve the quality of your life and teeth!

Article Summary

  1. Symptoms of xerostomia
  2. Causes of dry mouth
  3. Risks of dry mouth
  4. How to treat dry mouth

1. Symptoms of xerostomia

As mentioned above, the occasional dry mouth or throat is often just a result of dehydration and can be fixed by ensuring you drink plenty of water, with 2 – 3 litres per day being optimal. 

If the dryness continues or comes back even after drinking, this can indicate you’re potentially suffering from xerostomia instead. 

The symptoms of xerostomia can include:

  • Dryness, stickiness, or burning inside the mouth
  • Continually thirsty even after drinking
  • Sore throat
  • Bad breath
  • Dry/cracked lips
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing, particularly dry foods
  • Significant tooth decay
  • Impaired taste/speech
  • Rough tongue, which may get stuck to the roof of the mouth
  • Thick/stringy saliva
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Dentures becoming loose

Depending on the reason for xerostomia, a number of related symptoms may be present in the rest of the body, including:

  • Dry/itchy eyes
  • Dryness in nose or throat
  • Persistent coughing
  • Constipation
  • Pain/stiffness in joints
  • Impaired sense of smell
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Recurring vaginal thrush infections in females

2. Causes of dry mouth

There are a variety of causes of xerostomia or dry mouth syndrome, with this condition also becoming more common as we get older. 

The most common causes of xerostomia include:

  • Some medications (eg. anti-anxiety medication, antidepressants, antihistamines, blood pressure medication, decongestants. Diuretics, muscle relaxants, some painkillers and sedatives)
  • Medical conditions (eg. Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, mouth or salivary gland infections like oral thrush or mumps, kidney failure, lupus, Parkinson’s disease, stroke)
  • Radiation therapy in the head or neck area or chemotherapy
  • Injury or trauma to the head or neck, which affect the salivary glands
  • Tobacco, alcohol, caffeine and drug use
  • Snoring, sleep apnoea or mouth breathing
  • Ageing and hormones

3. Risks of dry mouth

If you suffer from dry mouth syndrome, you’ll know that the discomfort is clearly one of the undesirable effects, but it’s definitely not the only one. Dry mouth, or more specifically a lack of saliva, can cause a number other risks to your dental health and general quality of life.

Dry mouth and tooth decay

Saliva acts as a lubricant for the soft tissues in your mouth and protects your teeth, basically acting as an ongoing bath for maintaining clean teeth and washing away bacteria and food debris from your teeth, and neutralising acids that wear down the tooth enamel. Therefore, reduced saliva production increases the risk of tooth decay and cavities, especially when consuming sugar

The decay usually begins along the gum line, and the gums may even recede and expose the dentine, which is the layer of tooth below the enamel. This layer is less resistant to acids, so decay occurs more quickly than it does within enamel. Decay can also begin on the front bottom teeth, which are usually kept protected by plenty of saliva produced from under the tongue.

Saliva also provides enamel with essential minerals such as calcium and phosphorus, which helps it to rebuild and prevent the buildup of plaque.

Infection prevention

Saliva also helps combat infections within the mouth thanks to its antifungal features. A reduced production of saliva increases the risk of developing mouth sores, as well as yeast infections (or oral thrush).

Denture fitting

For those with dentures, saliva helps hold them in place due to the suction effect created. When there isn’t enough saliva, dentures may become loose or uncomfortable.

Diet and general health

Saliva also helps with eating, by making dry foods easier to chew and swallow by lubricating the mouth, aiding digestion with its enzymes, and by allowing us to recognise a variety of flavours and textures. A dry mouth means eating can be more difficult and not as enjoyable, leading to changes in diet that may include undereating or not eating a wide variety of foods.


4. How to treat dry mouth

If you think you have xerostomia or dry mouth syndrome, it’s important to visit your dentist or doctor. They can examine your mouth and take samples of your saliva, as well as find out about your symptoms, medical history, current medications and lifestyle elements that may be related to your dry mouth. This will allow them to diagnose the cause of the condition and create a treatment plan with you. In addition to tackling the symptoms you’re facing, treatment should also address the actual cause of them.

Treatment for xerostomia includes:

  • Changing the dosage or medication you’re taking if this is the cause
  • Managing a related health problem, such as a disease or sleep condition
  • Saliva substitutes or a special mouthwash may be prescribed to alleviate the dryness until the root cause is treated 
  • If in the rare instance the salivary glands are obstructed, surgery may be required

There are also a number of lifestyle changes you can make to reduce dry mouth, including:

  • Reducing your alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and soft drink intake
  • Reducing dry foods
  • Consciously breathing through your nose instead of your mouth
  • Staying well hydrated throughout the day
  • Chewing sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva production
  • Removing dentures before bed, and ask your dentist if dental adhesives are an option
  • Moisturising dry lips with paw paw ointment or Vaseline
  • Using an air humidifier in your bedroom when sleeping
  • Asking your dentist for recommendations on products to help moisten the mouth, including toothpastes, sprays or lozenges
  • Maintaining good oral hygiene practices by brushing your teeth twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste, and flossing daily

To find out more about dry mouth syndrome and your treatment options, it’s best to come in and have a chat with one of our lovely Gold Coast dentists if you suspect you may have xerostomia. Get in touch with us today on the phone numbers below, or conveniently book an appointment online:


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