What is Dry Mouth? [Symptoms, Causes, Treatment]

Sometimes we take things we normally have for granted, like saliva. But, the moment when you feel like you don’t have saliva it can make regular activities like speaking and swallowing difficult. Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, results when there is not enough saliva. Saliva is important for keeping your mouth healthy, as it enhances your taste buds, prevents tooth decay, allows for proper swallowing, and helps with digestion. Dry mouth can be prevented and treated with the help of dental professionals.

What is Dry Mouth?

Dry mouth is characterized by inadequate amounts of saliva. This can make your mouth feel uncomfortable and lead to many oral health issues. Dry mouth can be caused by many factors, such as dehydration, certain medications, stress, mouth breathing, smoking, and radiation therapy.

What is Dry Mouth? [Symptoms, Causes, Treatment]

Importance of Saliva for the Body

Saliva is necessary for protecting your smile. Saliva is necessary for several reasons including to:

  • Digest food properly
  • Maintain good oral health, lowering your risk of developing cavities and other oral diseases
  • Proper denture fit
  • Adequate speech
  • Proper swallowing

Most Common Causes of Dry Mouth


Certain medications may have dry mouth as a side effect. This is common in medications aimed to treat depression, anxiety, diarrhea, high blood pressure, and asthma.


Dry mouth is increasingly more common as you get older. This could be a result of changes in the body or the intake of medications.

Cancer Therapy

Radiation therapy to treat cancer in the head or neck region may cause dry mouth. The radiation may damage the salivary glands, resulting in a reduction in saliva production.

Nerve Damage

Nerve damage can impact your salivary glands and lead to dry mouth. Nerve damage may result due to injury, infection, or surgical procedure.

Tobacco and Alcohol Use

Tobacco and alcohol use can cause dry mouth, as they both reduce saliva.

Recreational Drug Use

Recreational drug use can reduce saliva production and cause dry mouth.

Symptoms of Dry Mouth

Symptoms of dry mouth commonly include:

  • Sore throat
  • Trouble speaking and swallowing
  • Bad breath
  • Dryness cotton feeling in the mouth
  • Thick and stringy saliva
  • Altered sense of taste
  • Trouble wearing dentures or orthodontic retainers
  • Grooved or dry tongue
  • Dental cavities
  • Gum disease
  • Mouth ulcers

Risks Factors of Dry Mouth

According to Colgate Professional, risk factors for dry mouth include:

  • Certain chronic health conditions including diabetes and Sjogren’s syndrome.
  • Certain medications
  • Tobacco or recreational drug use
  • Alcohol use
  • Caffeine consumption
  • Radiation therapy
  • Increased age
  • Nerve damage
  • Stress and anxiety

Common complications of dry mouth can include oral sores, gum disease, trouble swallowing and speaking, tooth decay, altered taste, bad breath, and sore throat.

Treatment for Dry Mouth

Dry mouth treatment focuses on increasing saliva production to support a healthy smile. Your medical professionals will first evaluate your medications to determine if changes need to be made to reduce dry mouth. Only make changes to your medication routine if instructed by your medical professional.

They may also recommend dry mouth medications like pilocarpine, saliva substitutes, sugar-free gum, or oral rinses to help increase saliva production.


Dry mouth can be uncomfortable, but fortunately can be managed. To help prevent dry mouth, it is essential to brush and floss your teeth daily, visit your dentist for regular check-ups, and maintain good oral hygiene practices. It is recommended to use toothpaste containing fluoride and to maintain a healthy diet to help reduce your likelihood of developing oral issues like oral infection and dry mouth. If you are experiencing symptoms of dry mouth, be sure to inform your healthcare providers.