Why Is My Mouth So Dry?

Dry mouth is caused by many factors and can lead to serious oral issues

senior Asian man drinking water
DigitalVision/Getty Images

Sticky, pasty, hard to swallow—if this describes how your mouth feels often, you may be suffering from a common dental condition called xerostomia, or what is commonly referred to as dry mouth. It is the result of a decrease in the volume of saliva produced and present in the mouth. Saliva can be present, but it may be thick, viscous and even stringy in consistency.

Saliva has many purposes and it is an important part of our overall health that is often taken for granted.

Saliva helps you taste and digest food. Friction occurs constantly in the mouth, and saliva acts as a lubricant that protects the sensitive tissues from sores and infections. It also protects your teeth and helps neutralize acids in your mouth. Saliva cleans your mouth by loosening and sweeping away food particles, and helps prevent tooth decay by controlling bacteria, viruses and fungi found there.

If you feel your mouth is unusually dry, this is something important to address.

Problems that are are associated with dry mouth include gingivitis, tooth decay and oral infections. Dry mouth affects approximately 10% of the population, and it is more common in women than men. Also more likely to be affected by dry mouth are those who frequently take medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, and older people.

Symptoms of Dry Mouth

If you have dry mouth, you may experience any of these symptoms:

  • Stickiness in the mouth
  • Dryness in the mouth or throat
  • Bad breath
  • Cracked lips, or splits in the skin at the corners of the mouth
  • Sores in the mouth
  • Raw or sore tongue, or inflammation of the tongue
  • Dry nasal passages
  • Hoarseness
  • Increase in the need to drink when eating and attempting to swallow
  • Changes in the sense of taste

    Causes of Dry Mouth

    There are many potential causes for dry mouth. Some of these include:

    • Chronic mouth breathing
    • Medications used to treat conditions such as high blood pressure, depression, overactive bladder and Parkinson's disease—more than 400 prescribed and over-the-counter medications list dry mouth as a side effect.
    • Medical treatments and procedures such as bone marrow transplants, chemotherapy and radiation therapy
    • Diseases and health conditions such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS, Sjögren’s Syndrome, depression, Parkinson's disease, thyroid disease and dehydration.
    • Blocked salivary ducts
    • Stress and anxiety
    • Injury to nerves in the mouth due to trauma, which may cause a decrease in saliva production
    • Lifestyle contributors, such as tobacco use, including smokeless tobacco products
    • A decrease in the production of saliva due to the natural aging processes

    Diagnosis of Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)

    There are many reasons why your mouth may be so dry, and your doctor may diagnose the problem as xerostomia, which really is just the fancy medical term for a dry mouth.

     A visit to your dentist or physician will help you understand why you are suffering from a dry mouth. He or she can offer you treatment options for xerostomia.

    Treatment for Dry Mouth

    There is little that can prevent dry mouth, but its symptoms can be treated to provide relief and comfort to the sufferer.

    Keeping the mouth moist as much as possible is an immediate treatment for the problem one can do at home. Drinking water regularly throughout the day will help; sucking on ice chips is also a common way to help with dry mouth.

    Using a mouthwash can be helpful, but only if it does not contain alcohol. Alcohol, which is present in many mouthwashes, will only dry the mouth further and exacerbate the symptoms.

    Lip balms and salves can help relieve dry and cracked lips and the corners of the mouth.

    Sugarfree chewing gums, sugarfree lemon drops or lozenges can also help to coax the production of saliva; however, avoid any that contain sugar, as these can promote cavities in your mouth that is compromised because of decreased saliva production.

    Low-sugar diets and excellent oral hygiene are critical for those who suffer dry mouth. Though these do not prevent dry mouth or treat it directly, they will ward against the increased risks of gum disease, tooth decay and many other oral problems.

    Continue Reading