Dry Mouth

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What is dry mouth?

Dry mouth is a condition that usually results from decreased production of saliva. At times, xerostomia can make it difficult to speak and may lead to malnutrition. Extreme dry mouth and salivary gland dysfunction can produce significant and permanent mouth and throat disorders and can impair a person's quality of life. Dry mouth is also called xerostomia.

Oral Health Pictures Slideshow: Dry Mouth Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

How common is dry mouth?

Dry mouth affects about 10% of all people and is more prevalent in women than men. Disorders of saliva production affect elderly people and those who are taking prescription and nonprescription medications most frequently.

What are the benefits of saliva?

Saliva is an essential part of a healthy mouth and is often taken for granted. The lubricating properties of saliva provide comfort and help protect the oral tissues against ulcers, sores, and other effects of friction. Saliva neutralizes acids and provides antibodies against bacterial threat. Saliva helps digest food and helps teeth in remineralization. Saliva is also a very essential contributor to a person's ability to taste, as it acts as a solvent for the taste stimuli.

What causes dry mouth?

There are many causes of dry mouth. Dry mouth most commonly occurs as a side effect of medications that cause decrease saliva production, including blood pressure medications, antihistamines, antidepressants, diuretics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, and many others. Other causes of dry mouth are radiation treatments to treat cancerous tumors of the head and neck, salivary gland diseases, diabetes, hormonal imbalance, mouth breathing, sleep apnea, and autoimmune disorders such as Sjögren's syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic lupus erythematosus. Eating disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia, are other risk factors for developing xerostomia. Salivary production can be decreased if a major salivary duct becomes blocked, such as from a stone or infection. Dry mouth will often occur during pregnancy or breastfeeding due to dehydration and hormonal changes. Other causative factors include stress, anxiety, depression, and dehydration.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/1/2014

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Dry Mouth Causes

Dry mouth is more than just feeling thirsty. You get it when your mouth makes very little saliva -- or even none at all. What little saliva you have might be thick and stringy. Saliva helps you taste food and drinks and it helps you digest food. It flushes food particles away from your teeth and helps prevent tooth decay. Another name for dry mouth is xerostomia.

More than 400 types of medications can cause dry mouth, including:

  • non-prescription drugs for allergies and cold symptoms, and
  • many prescription drugs for high blood pressure,
  • overactive bladder, and
  • mental health issues.

You can also get dry mouth after some medical treatments such as cancer radiation, which can hurt the glands that make saliva. Chemotherapy sometimes causes saliva to thicken and make the mouth feel dry.