It’s normal to seldom have a dry mouth if you’re dehydrated or feeling nervous, but a persistently dry mouth can be a symptom of an underlying problem.
You should see your dentist or care provider if you have an unusually dry mouth (known as xerostomia) so they can try to know the cause.
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What can cause a dry mouth?
A dry mouth can happen when the salivary glands in your mouth don’t produce enough saliva.
This is often because of dehydration, which implies you don’t have enough fluid in your body to produce the saliva you require. It’s also common for your mouth to become dry if you’re feeling anxious or nervous.
A dry mouth can sometimes be caused by an underlying issues or medical condition, such as:
- medication – many different medications can create a dry mouth, including antidepressants, antihistamines and diuretics; check through the leaflet that comes with your medicine, or find it in the medicines section to see if dry mouth is listed as a side effect
- a blocked nose – breathing through your mouth while you sleep can make it to dry out
- diabetes – a lifelong condition that makes a person’s blood sugar level to become too high
- radiotherapy to the head and neck – this can make the salivary glands to become inflamed (mucositis)
- Sjögren’s syndrome – a condition where the immune system attacks and damages the salivary glands
If you see your dentist or care giver, let them know about any other signs you’re experiencing and any treatments you’re having, as this will assist them work out why your mouth is dry.
What problems can a dry mouth cause?
Saliva plays an important role in keeping your mouth healthy. If you have a dry mouth, you may notice a number of other problems too, such as:
- a burning sensation or soreness in your mouth
- dry lips
- bad breath (halitosis)
- a decreased or altered sense of taste
- recurrent mouth infections, such as oral thrush
- tooth decay and gum disease
- difficulty speaking, eating or swallowing
It’s vital to maintain good oral hygiene if you have a dry mouth to lower the risk of dental problems. You should also see a dentist regularly, so they can identify and treat any issues early on.
How to treat a dry mouth
Treating the underlying cause
If your caregiver or dentist is able to determine what’s causing your dry mouth, treating this may improve your signs.
For example, if medication is suspected as the cause of your dry mouth, your doctor may lower your dose or suggest trying an alternative medication.
Some of the conditions mentioned above have specific treatments, such as nasal decongestants for a blocked nose and insulin for diabetes.
Things to try yourself
There are simple steps you can try to help keep your mouth moist. For example, it may assist to:
- increase your fluid intake – take regular sips of cold water or an unsweetened drink
- suck on sugar-free sweets or chew sugar-free gum – this can stimulate your salivary glands to generate more saliva
- suck on ice cubes – the ice will melt slowly and moisten your mouth
- avoid alcohol (including alcohol-based mouthwashes), caffeine and smoking – these can all make a dry mouth worse
Saliva substitutes and stimulants
If the measures above does not, your dentist, GP or specialist may suggest using an artificial saliva substitute to keep your mouth moist. This may come in the form of a spray, gel or lozenge. Use it as often as you want to, including before and during meals.
If your dry mouth is caused by radiotherapy or Sjögren’s syndrome, a medication called pilocarpine may be recommended. This is taken as a tablet several times a day to help stimulate your salivary glands to produce more saliva.
However, pilocarpine is not suitable for everyone, as it may cause side effects, such as sweating or headaches.