What are the causes of dry mouth?

What are the causes of dry mouth?

Written by Emily Smith — Oral Health Therapist.

Xerostomia, or dry mouth, is a condition where the salivary glands don’t produce enough saliva to lubricate the mouth. It is often the side effect of taking one or more medications, a symptom of a disease affecting the salivary glands, or as a result of radiation treatment in the head and neck area. Saliva plays an important role in protecting the oral tissues and reducing decay. It can buffer acids from your diet (e.g, soft drinks) or reflux, and the acid produced by decay causing bacteria.

Saliva also helps to moisturise the mouth and make chewing, swallowing & talking easier. In addition to this, saliva contains enzymes that start the digestion process.

Reduced saliva can range from being a mild discomfort, right through to severely affecting a person’s ability to function and a reduced quality of life. Learn more about the causes of dry mouth below, and discover your treatment options. We’re here to help.

Symptoms of dry mouth

Dry mouth symptoms include:

  • Feeling of dryness or stickiness in your mouth.
  • Bad breath
  • Dry or grooved/fissured tongue
  • Difficulty wearing dentures
  • Sores at the corners of your mouth or dry, cracked lips
  • Yeast infections in your mouth (oral thrush)
  • Changed sense of taste
  • Difficulty eating, swallowing, and speaking
  • Burning or tingling sensation in the mouth
  • Increased tooth decay and gum disease

Causes of dry mouth

There are many causes of dry mouth, where the salivary glands don’t produce enough saliva. These can include:

  • Certain types of medications or taking multiple medications at one time. The most common medications include those used to treat depression, high blood pressure and anxiety.
  • Cancer therapy. Chemotherapy can change the nature of your saliva and the amount produced (this is usually temporary & will return to normal after treatment is completed). Radiation therapy can damage the salivary glands and result in a marked decrease in saliva production, which may continue after treatment.
  • Tobacco and alcohol use. Vaping can also be included in this category.
  • Recreational drug use, in particular, methamphetamine and marijuana.
  • Other health conditions, including diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune conditions such as Sjogren’s syndrome or HIV/AIDS. Mouth breathing or snoring will also dry out the oral tissues. Dehydration can also reduce your body’s ability to produce saliva.
  • Mouth breathing or snoring will also dry out the oral tissues. Dehydration can also reduce your body’s ability to produce saliva.


Xerostomia treatments

Xerostomia treatments vary on an individual basis, depending on the cause of dry mouth. For some, regular sips of water throughout the day can be enough to relieve symptoms. Other treatments include:

  • Medication review. Talking to your GP to discuss other types of medication that may be used and are less likely to cause dry mouth.
  • Saliva substitutes to ease symptoms. This can include dry mouth gels, toothpastes, or mouth rinses. Talk to your dentist or hygienist to see what they recommend. Using a toothpaste which doesn’t include sodium laurel sulphate can also help reduce feelings of dry mouth. Some product ranges include Biotene, Oral7, and Hamilton Aquae.
  • Products to reduce decay. This may include higher fluoride toothpastes (Neutrafluor 5000), more frequent fluoride applications, or the use of Tooth Mousse Plus. Talk to your dentist or hygienist about these products.
  • Chewing sugar-free gum after meals to help stimulate saliva production, or sucking sugar free lollies or other sugar free products that contain xylitol (note: in some people, xylitol may have a laxative effect if consumed in large amounts).
  • Dietary changes, such as reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, as these have a diuretic effect and can increase feelings of dry mouth. Avoiding salty and spicy foods can also help relieve the discomfort caused by dry mouth.
  • Using a humidifier in the room at night can help add moisture in the air.
  • Moisturise your lips regularly.

Regular check-ups every six months with your dentist and hygienist are important in maintain oral health with the increased risk that a dry mouth can bring. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us on (02) 4961 6300


Book an appointment with our dental professionals to discuss the treatments and causes of dry mouth today!

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