Dry Mouth and Alcohol

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glasses of red and white wine on table

When consumed, alcohol has a diuretic effect, which means it stimulates urine production. With each trip to the bathroom, your body is losing water, pushing you toward dehydration. You’ve probably experienced dehydration at some point in your life. It may come as no surprise then that one of the hallmark symptoms of even mild dehydration is a dry mouth.

We can see how dehydration from drinking leads to dry mouth by measuring saliva production. Evidence suggests alcohol consumption impacts your ability to produce saliva in the short-term. And heavy drinkers may also detect some long-term changes.

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol

Does a glass or two of wine seem to suck the moisture right out of your mouth? You’re not alone. One study compared salivary flow in 24 people before and after they consumed a potent alcoholic drink. Half an hour after consuming the alcohol, the participants had experienced a 40% decrease in salivary flow. When the scientists measured saliva again, an hour and 45 minutes after alcohol consumption, it was returning to normal. So, depending on how much alcohol you consume—and how quickly—you might expect to feel dryness in your mouth for a couple hours following your last drink.

You can stay hydrated at the bar by drinking water after each alcoholic beverage. Glass of wine? Glass of water. Bottle of beer? Glass of water. Cocktail? Glass of water. Consuming all these fluids may mean even more bathroom trips, but the extra water will keep dehydration in check and your mouth lubricated.

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol

We don’t fully understand the long-term effects alcohol has on dry mouth and saliva. But long-term alcohol use could affect your salivary glands.

When stimulated, large salivary glands called the parotid glands secrete about 80% of your saliva. These glands are located in front of your ears and are often enlarged in people suffering from alcoholic cirrhosis. A condition more common among heavy drinkers, cirrhosis compromises liver function and can lead to fluid retention, fatigue, and confusion.

Enlarged parotid glands may also function differently. In a small study of people with alcoholic cirrhosis, 11 out of 18 participants had enlarged parotid glands, and these people actually showed an increase in salivary flow. Still, other studies of patients with alcoholic cirrhosis have found a decrease in salivary flow—just the opposite. 

Alcohol in Mouthwash

For many people, enjoying a pint of beer or a glass of wine isn’t the only time we expose our mouths to alcohol. Many mouthwashes contain it, sometimes in excess of 20%. Swishing that alcohol around in your mouth—even for just 30 seconds each day—can contribute to feelings of dry mouth.

Beyond dry mouth, alcohol consumption is linked to oral cancer, and even that mouthwash of yours may raise your risk. Studies have linked daily use of alcoholic mouthwash to a minor increase in risk of developing oral cancer, even in people who don’t drink.

If you swear by mouthwash, experiment with brands that don’t put alcohol in their products to see if that relieves feelings of dry mouth. And ask your dentist about the overall risks and benefits of mouthwashes that contain alcohol versus those that don’t.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Oct 17
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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