Dry mouth is officially called xerostomia. This occurs when the salivary glands fail to produce enough saliva. It is typically a temporary condition caused by dehydration, heavy breathing, dry air, or other situational circumstances. When a patient has the condition on a regular basis, it may be a chronic dental problem. The cause may be an underlying issue requiring treatment.

Saliva is Important

Saliva is an important component of oral health. It softens our food and helps us to chew. There are enzymes in saliva that help to digest food. Saliva provides a natural defense to protect the teeth. It protects against acid erosion by neutralizing acids within the mouth. It washes away food debris so that is not left in the mouth. Saliva restores minerals to the teeth. Saliva also lubricates the mouth. This makes it easier to speak.


There are several signs and symptoms a patient may notice if there is not enough saliva being produced.

  • Sticky mouth
  • Thirst
  • Sore throat
  • Dry sore and cracked mouth
  • Dry and chapped lips
  • Dry or grooved tongue
  • Sore tongue
  • Red or raw tongue
  • Bad breath
  • Saliva is there, but seems thick and sticky
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Changed sense of taste
  • Problems wearing dental appliances
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Difficulty speaking

Causes of Dry Mouth


Dry mouth can often be a side effect of certain medications. Hundreds of medications, including many over-the-counter drugs have this side effect. Particularly, drugs that treat depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, decongestants, antihistamines, muscle relaxers, and pain medications can all be culprits.

Mouth Breathers

Mouth breathers tend to have dry mouths. This is especially true if a patient sleeps with their mouth open or if they snore.

Cancer Treatment

It can result from radiation therapies and chemotherapy drugs used to fight cancer. The severity of the dry mouth will depend on the extent and dose of the treatments. Luckily, the condition may be temporary and will go away after treatment. Other times it will be long-term or even permanent.

Nerve Damage

Nerve damage can also lead to dry mouth. If a patient has had an injury, an accident, or a surgery that causes nerve damage in the neck and head area, they may experience a drying of the mouth.

Health Conditions

There are other health conditions that can cause dry mouth. Yeast infection in the mouth, called thrush, is definitely a cause. Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, stroke, HIV/AIDS, or other autoimmune diseases can include similar symptoms.



Seniors are more likely to struggle with a lack of saliva production as they age. This could be a result of medication they are taking or a change in the way the aging body is able to process the medication. Seniors with long-term health problems often encounter this.



Inadequate nutrition is another cause. Our body needs the proper nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to function properly. When we do not eat well, our body may not produce saliva as it should.


Lifestyle Choices

Smoking and chewing tobacco are other causes of dry mouth or increase its symptoms. Alcohol may do this as well. Recreational drugs cause dry mouth as well. Marijuana causes dry mouth. Methamphetamine causes severe dry mouth and damage to teeth. Caffeine can also trigger dry mouth. These choices can also lead to more frequent urination which is an increase in body water loss.


Underlying Conditions

Less often, dry mouth can be caused by an underlying condition that directly impacts the saliva glands.

Dental Problems

Dry mouth can cause oral health problems because of decreased saliva production. Most people have dealt with dry mouth from time to time, but when dry mouth is a constant, chronic problem, it can lead to severe dental damage and should not go untreated. Some examples of dental issues that can stem from dry mouth include:

Tooth Decay

Without saliva, food particles, acids, and bacteria are not washed away from the teeth. If the bacteria and acid are allowed to build up, it will create a sticky film on the teeth. That film can cause plaque. The plaque hardens to tartar over time. This tarter builds up and needs to be removed. If the plaque and tartar are left untreated, it can cause tooth decay.


Gum Disease

If tartar and plaque are left untreated on the teeth, it can lead to gum disease. The particles on the teeth infect the gums. Weakening the gums can allow decay to reach the roots of teeth. Patients may require root canals to repair the damage. Gum disease can even result in bone and tooth loss.


Enamel Erosion

Acids left on the teeth can begin to erode the tooth enamel. Enamel is the shiny, protective layer of the tooth. It helps to keep anything in the mouth from penetrating the soft tissue inside the tooth. If the enamel erodes, the teeth become vulnerable to tooth decay and even root damage.



If enamel is damaged, the plaque and food on the teeth reach the soft tissue of the tooth and causes stains and discoloration.

Treatments for Dry Mouth

Fortunately, you do not have to live with a dry mouth. In fact, there are a wide variety of treatments available. For one thing, a doctor may change a patient’s medication. For example, there are prescription medications that stimulate saliva production. There are also over-the-counter products that act as a saliva substitute. In addition, mouthwashes and rinses designed for dry mouth help alleviate symptoms and help protect the teeth as well.

Self Help

Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated prevents dry mouth in some instances. Not only water but chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free candies stimulates saliva production. Generally speaking, a humidifier helps because it moistens dry air. Try to breathe through the nose and not the mouth. Limit overly sugary dry, or salty foods such as crackers, dry meat, cookies, dry fruit, and crusty bread. Patients should also avoid spicy foods. Minimize acidic beverages such as fruit juices. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and recreational drugs. It is important to brush and floss several times a day to remove food and particles from the teeth that saliva is not removing naturally.


Dental Care

If a patient struggles with dry mouth for an extended period of time, there may be damage in the mouth. In addition to alleviating the feeling of cotton in your mouth, treatment is available to repair the damage. Although treatment depends on the type and extent of damage, some possible options include tooth-colored fillings, dental crowns, and gum treatments, like root planing and scaling, to reverse gum disease.

Don’t live with a dry mouth! Come see us at Danville Family Dentistry and we can assess your dry mouth, determine possible causes, and offer recommendations to alleviate it. Contact us today!

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Disclaimer: The information included in this article is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.