What Causes Dry Mouth, and How to Treat and Prevent It
Why Is My Mouth So Dry?
Dry mouth is a common yet often misunderstood condition. It affects about one in four adults (especially women), and more than half of the elderly.
There are two general categories of dry mouth: one is referred to as hyposalivation (an absolute shortage of saliva) and the other xerostomia (a subjective feeling of dryness in the mouth, which is not necessarily associated with a shortage of saliva). Here we’ll mostly be talking about the first type, which occurs when salivary glands in your mouth aren’t producing enough saliva. This results in a dry feeling in your mouth or throat.
On the surface, this can sound like a mild issue, and in some cases, it is. But in other cases, dry mouth can be a life-altering challenge that prevents proper eating, speaking and sleeping. The symptoms of dry mouth can vary drastically in severity due to its wide range of causes. Because of this, it can be challenging to manage without the help of a professional - yet very important to treat.
Below, we’ll go into the symptoms of dry mouth, what causes it, and what you can do to help prevent it.
Why Is Saliva So Important?
The main identifier of dry mouth is a lack of saliva. This may not sound like much on its own, but to your mouth’s ecosystem, it’s a big deal. Saliva does plenty to protect your mouth, such as:
- Safeguarding your mouth against ulcers, sores, and the effects of friction
- Neutralizing the acids that can lead to dental plaque and tooth decay, not to mention fighting bacteria that can cause gingivitis
- Beginning the digestive process
- Helping us to chew, swallow, taste, and even speak
What Are the Health Implications of Dry Mouth?
The real trouble starts when the lack of saliva’s protective moisture in your mouth and throat begins to lead to a host of different symptoms:
- Difficulty speaking, chewing or swallowing
- Tooth decay
- Foul breath
- Thick, sticky saliva where it’s found
- Cracked, split lips
- Frequent thirst
- Irritation in the mouth
- Mouth infections, canker sores and ulcers
- Bleeding gums, as well as dry irritated, and sore mucosa with a burning sensation
- Altered taste
It’s not the best condition for a mouth to be in. In addition to pain or discomfort, dry mouth might result in low self-confidence and communication difficulties. The good news is that even in severe cases, not all of these symptoms happen all at once - some take time to develop, especially those that can cause longer-term damage like tooth decay and infection.
This is why it’s highly important to keep an eye out for signs of dry mouth, and to consult your dentist if they worsen or persist.
How Can I Tell if I Have Dry Mouth?
Wondering if you are suffering from dry mouth? Consider the symptoms and ask yourself:
- Do I take one or several medications on a daily basis?
- Do I have cracking at the corners of the mouth?
- Do I need to constantly drink?
- Do I wake up during the night with a dry mouth?
- Do I have difficulty in swallowing dry food?
- Do I suffer from bad breath?
- Do I regularly suffer from oral disorders such as mouth ulcers?
- Do I notice a dry and rough texture on my tongue?
- Do I suffer from a chronic disease (e.g. diabetes, Sjögren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis)?
These aren’t meant to be ironclad indicators of dry mouth, but rather guidelines. Consider these questions along with your saliva level and, if you feel like you may be suffering from dry mouth, check in with your dentist.
Remember: dry mouth doesn’t always mean bone-dry. It’s possible that a mild case of dry mouth goes unnoticed if you’ve gotten used to a reduced amount of saliva; in these cases, you may still be at risk for developing issues because of dry mouth.
What Causes Dry Mouth?
Many things can cause dry mouth - a fact that makes it challenging to treat.
The causes can be temporary, such as:
- Side effects of over 1,800 commonly prescribed medications (e.g. antidepressants, antihistamines)
- Hormonal fluctuations
- Breathing through your mouth rather than your nose
- Vitamin deficiency
There are also long-term causes:
- Sjögren’s syndrome
- Parkinson’s disease
- Sleep apnoea
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Salivary gland disease
- Cancer (or treatments for it like radiotherapy in the head/face/neck area and chemotherapy)
- Head and neck surgery and radiotherapy
- Other chronic diseases
Again, it’s important to monitor your symptoms if you feel like you are developing dry mouth. Acting quickly, consulting with your dentist, and taking preventative measures can make a huge difference in terms of minimizing symptoms and reducing risk.
Dry Mouth at Night
Did you know dry mouth tends to occur mostly at night?
Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to find your mouth is parched. Your lips are cracking and splitting, your tongue is heavy and thick and your throat is painfully dry. Some of those who suffer from dry mouth can wake up like this several times a night. Breathing can feel difficult and getting back to sleep can feel impossible - let alone waking up refreshed.
While keeping water by your bedside can help, oftentimes it won’t be enough to completely alleviate symptoms. Water doesn’t stick to the lining of the inside of your mouth in the same way saliva does; you simply swallow it and it’s gone. If you’re waking up at night due to dry mouth, try using a humidifier beside your bed and consult with your dentist about using anti-dry mouth solutions.
Waking up with dry mouth
Morning breath can be the least of it. Dry mouth at night usually leads to waking up with a parched mouth and throat. We recommend having a hydrating, moist breakfast like fresh fruit, vegetable juices or smoothies. Perhaps skip the toast - your mouth can be irritated, extra-sensitive and prone to damage in the earlier hours. Above all: drink water in abundance, as your body dehydrates further while you sleep. Plus, sipping water while you eat can help make it easier.
After hydrating, we also suggest brushing your teeth gently to help protect them when they need it most. After all, a long night without the protective effects of saliva can leave your teeth open to harmful bacteria. Also, chewing sugar-free gum after breakfast can help kickstart reduced saliva production.
If you’re waking up with dry mouth, you want to start preventative measures as soon as the day begins. While there’s no “off” switch for dry mouth, building and combining habits to counter dry mouth can make a massive difference in the quality of your day.
How to Get Rid of Dry Mouth
Along with seeing your dental professional, there are things you can do in your daily life to help prevent dry mouth:
- Drink enough water - this can play a big part in maintaining mouth moisture.
- Avoid tobacco, alcohol, or caffeinated beverages, all of which can contribute to dry mouth.
- Consult with your doctor about switching to a different medication.
- Chew sugar-free gum to help stimulate saliva production.
- Practice breathing through your nose, as mouth-breathing can lead to your mouth drying out further.
- Use speciality oral care products that are designed to help treat the effects of dry mouth.
- Use only alcohol-free mouthwash.
- Sleep with a humidifier nearby.
- Take your vitamins! Vitamin C can help bolster the health of your mouth tissue and Vitamin B6 can help stave off bacterial infections.
Along with these practices - we recommend using our GUM® HYDRAL® products. We’ve developed this line specifically to help people minimize symptoms of dry mouth in their daily lives. GUM HYDRAL comes as a spray, mouthrinse, a gel and a toothpaste.