What Causes Dry Mouth?

By

Nancy LeBrun

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Woman doctor examining patients mouth

Having a dry mouth–a lack of saliva–can be uncomfortable, and it can also affect your dental and digestive well-being. You might have a sore throat, bad breath, dry nasal passages, hoarseness or even a little trouble swallowing if you don’t have enough moisture in your mouth. But what’s the cause?

Stress and nervousness can lead to dry mouth, such as when you are about to speak to a group or have a job interview. But if your mouth feels dry on a regular basis, there may be other factors behind it, because dry mouth is not a condition or disease itself—it’s a result of an underlying problem.

What is making my mouth feel dry?

Causes of dry mouth include:

  • Medications. There are more than 400 medicines that can cause dry mouth. They include both over-the- counter and prescription meds. Among some of the most common drugs that can result in dry mouth are antidepressants, pills for anxiety, pain medication, antihistamines, diuretics and decongestants.

  • Tobacco, alcohol and caffeine. These substances are irritants and can also dehydrate you, which may decrease the moisture in your mouth.

  • Nerve damage. If you’ve had an injury to the head or neck, it may affect saliva production if the nerves leading to the salivary glands are involved.

  • Cancer treatment. Chemotherapy can slow saliva production or make the saliva thicker during treatment, but the problem usually resolves once treatment is complete. Radiation may damage the saliva glands directly, but whether the damage is permanent or not depends on the dose and location of the treated area.

  • Certain diseases. Sjögren's syndrome is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks its own moisture- producing glands, causing dry mouth. Dry mouth can also be caused by diabetes or HIV/AIDS.

What can I do about dry mouth?

Besides being uncomfortable, a lack of saliva can cause dental problems over time and it can also lessen your sense of taste. Your saliva helps you digest food and fight infection, too, so it’s worth taking care of your dry mouth. Whatever the cause, you can often remedy it. Try sipping water during the day or sucking on sugar-free candy or gum to stimulate the salivary glands. And look for over-the-counter oral rinses and even artificial saliva that can alleviate the problem and help keep your mouth healthy. If you are dealing with a lack of saliva, talk to your healthcare provider or your dentist about your concerns–he or she may well be able to help.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Feb 9, 2016

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View Sources

Medical References

  1. Dry Mouth Causes. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dry-mouth/basics/causes/con-20035499
  2. Dry Mouth. National Institute of Dental and Cranio Facial Research. National Institutes of Health. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/oralhealth/Topics/DryMouth/DryMouth.htm
  3. Dry Mouth Symptoms. American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/d/dry-mouth
  4. Dry Mouth: What Causes Dry Mouth? NIH Senior Health, National Institutes of Health. http://nihseniorhealth.gov/drymouth/whatcausesdrymouth/01.html
  5. Dry Mouth? Don’t Delay Treatment. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm254273.html

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