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The 6 list: Reasons for dry mouth

April 8, 2022
Suffering from dry mouth (xerostomia)? You're not alone. Here are 6 common reasons for dry mouth, and how you can get relief from it.

"The 6 list" is a recurring feature exploring various topics on oral health, curated for both patients and dental professionals to share with their patients. "6 reasons for dry mouth" was medically reviewed by David R. Rice, DDS, chief editor of DentistryIQ.

Saliva—you need a good flow of it more than you may realize. It plays a key role in your overall health, it serves as the mouth’s natural cleansing agent, and it’s essential for tasting and digestion.

Plus, it just makes things comfortable. If you doubt that, just ask anyone who doesn’t have enough of it.

Xerostomia, or dry mouth, is a common but sometimes overlooked condition where someone doesn’t produce enough saliva. It’s a discomfort for sure and can also lead to bad breath, dental disease, and more. Here are six reasons for dry mouth.

1. Medications

According to the American Academy of Oral Medicine, more than 1,110 medications have the potential to cause dry mouth.

The types of medications most likely to create the symptoms of xerostomia include antidepressants and antianxiety drugs, antihypertensives, antihistamines and decongestants, some analgesics, antidiarrheal medications, muscle relaxants, and drugs that treat urinary incontinence and Parkinson's disease.

2. Stress and anxiety

Medical professionals know what’s going on in the mouth can reflect other issues going on in the body, and vice versa. Anxiety can contribute to dry mouth by causing increased mouth breathing and acid backup; as well, antianxiety medications are among those most associated with dry mouth.

Stress and anxiety are also associated with jaw clenching and grinding. This can happen while you’re awake or asleep. Unfortunately, jaw grinding can be destructive to oral health and has been connected to diseases like periodontitis (gum disease), especially when they occur with dry mouth.

3. Various health conditions

There are many medical reasons for dry mouth. These include Alzheimer’s dementia, diabetes, and Sjogren’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects 0.1% to 4% of the population. Many of the medications used to treat some of these diseases also cause dry mouth, compounding the problem.

4. Drinking and using tobacco

Drinking and smoking are common causes of dry mouth, even if you’re not actually doing either at the moment your mouth feels dry. Alcohol is a diuretic (has a dehydrating effect); cigarettes and other products that contain tobacco can cause dry mouth because they slow down the body’s ability to produce saliva.

5. Age

Almost one-third of adults older than 65 deal with dry mouth, and the number rises to 40 percent of people in their 80s—the most common reason being that many older people take a medication that contributes to dry mouth.

6. Other general causes

There are causes of dry mouth that aren’t due to underlying disease, age, or medication. These include not drinking enough, hot weather, and sleeping with your mouth open.

Getting help

If you’re suffering from dry mouth, treating it should start with knowing why you have it. Talk to your dentist and doctor—they can help you find relief.

As you figure out what’s happening, you might notice there are many products advertised to help with dry mouth. However, these aren’t regulated for effectiveness and some are dangerously acidic, meaning they can make damage to your mouth worse. (Eating sugar-free lemon candy is often suggested, but these are also very acidic so aren’t recommended by the dental professionals at DentistryIQ.)