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Dry Mouth - An Overview

Dry mouth occurs when the salivary glands do not produce sufficient saliva. This lack of saliva causes the entire mouth to feel dry and sore. Inadequate saliva production may occur when a person is under excessive stress and often disappears once the stress is eliminated. However, dry mouth symptoms can occur over prolonged periods, and have multifarious causes. In addition to causing discomfort, prolonged dry mouth can lead to other diseases and health problems. Saliva plays an important role in oral health: it protects against tooth decay, aids in food digestion both in mouth (chewing and swallowing) and the stomach, and controls the level of fungi and bacteria present in the mouth. Dry mouth is not only uncomfortable and unhealthy but can also be a symptom of disease.

Dry Mouth Causes

The salivary glands produce saliva and keep the mouth moist. Dry mouth occurs when these salivary glands don't produce sufficient saliva to keep the mouth moist. A number of factors can be involved. More than 1400 prescription medications affect the production of saliva. Prescription medications for treating depression and hypertension are some of the more common of these.

Besides medication side effects, certain diseases can cause severe dry mouth: AIDS, Parkinson's disease, diabetes and most commonly Sjogren's syndrome. Sjogren's syndrome is an incurable autoimmune disorder that is very common among older people. Caused by viral infection or genetic factors, Sjogren's syndrome directly affects the saliva glands, causing them to produce less saliva.

Radiation therapy for cancers and cancerous tumors is another leading cause of dry mouth. When patients undergo radiation therapy, their salivary glands are exposed to radiation which can have reduce production of enough saliva.

Chemotherapy, the use of drugs to treat cancer, also causes dry mouth. In this case, the treatment actually thickens the saliva, inhibiting the salivary glands from getting enough saliva to the mouth and decreasing the moisturizing properties of the saliva.

Damage to nerves in the mouth and throat can also affect the function of salivary glands, resulting in dry mouth. Accidents involving trauma to the mouth and throat and certain surgeries can damage the nerves of the mouth and throat.

Dry Mouth Symptoms

Dry mouth causes a sticky or dry feeling in the mouth, sometimes called 'cottonmouth'. In addition to discomfort, other common symptoms of dry mouth include difficulty speaking, difficulty chewing and swallowing, and loss of the sense of taste. Other symptoms include a dry and rough tongue and burning of the mouth and throat. Mouth sores or infections in the mouth, chronic hoarseness and cracked lips are also painful and potentially dangerous symptoms of dry mouth.

Dry Mouth Complications

Dry mouth or lack of saliva can cause complications. Because swallowing becomes difficult, sufferers may often 'choke' as food flows down the esophagus and may constantly need to drink water while eating. Because saliva aids in proper digestion, digestive disorders can arise as a result of chronic dry mouth. Eating dry foods becomes almost impossible. Since saliva controls the bacteria and fungi in your mouth, dry mouth can significantly increase chances of tooth decay and infection in mouth - leading to other complications. In some cases, dry mouth can also be a sign of serious health problems and diseases. Tell your doctor about your dry mouth. He may be able to switch your prescriptions to limit side effects.


Diagnosing dry mouth is subjective. If the symptoms are bothersome, they may also be dangerous. As mentioned above, seeing a doctor is recommended. The doctor may check your salivary glands for production volume and ask about any medications you are on. Your medical history may also have information as to the cause of your dry mouth. The doctor may also take blood tests or check for joint inflammation and dry eyes which are indicators of Sjogren's syndrome. In some cases, a lip biopsy will be performed to confirm the diagnosis.


Dry mouth can be treated. If a mouth infection is causing the dry mouth, curing the infection can eliminate the problem. Prescription drugs that cause dry mouth can often be replaced with different drugs. Drinking liquids, using mouth rinses or chewing sugarless chewing gums are some other ways to treat dry mouth. Artificial saliva sprays can moisten the mouth and increase saliva production. A prescription drug called Pilocarpine can stimulate saliva production. To recap, treatments of dry mouth include: changing prescriptions which may be causing dry mouth as a side effect; taking prescription drugs that increase saliva production; using artificial saliva and other saliva producing aids; taking home remedies and treatments. Home remedies and treatments can be used as part of your daily routine, simultaneously reducing or curing dry mouth and also protecting yourself from infection, tooth decay or excessive discomfort.

  1. Gently brush teeth at least two times a day, use toothpaste with high fluoride content.
  2. Floss regularly.
  3. Drink water or sugar free liquids with every meal.
  4. Chew mint flavored candy, cinnamon or citrus products which may stimulate salivary glands.
  5. Use humidifier, especially if your dry mouth worsens at night.

Articles on Dry Mouth and Dry Mouth Treatments

Dry Mouth - An Overview
Dry Mouth Solutions
Dry Mouth Causes and Symptoms
Dry Mouth Complications
Dry Mouth and Sjogren's
Dry Mouth and Cancer Therapy (chemotherapy)
Dry Mouth and Prescription Drugs

Dry Mouth - An Overview