Have Dry Mouth? What You Can Do About It

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Does your mouth always feel dry and parched? Do you have trouble chewing, swallowing and talking? Is bad breath and tooth decay a recurring problem for you? These are just a few of the uncomfortable experiences dry mouth can lead to if it’s not managed properly. To combat that cottony feeling, find out more about the root causes of dry mouth and how to handle it.

What Is Dry Mouth?

Xerostomia, or dry mouth, is a common problem that many people share. It’s basically any condition where your salivary glands don’t produce enough saliva to keep your mouth as moist as it should be. Severity can range from brief and temporary to chronic and seriously annoying. Besides feeling uncomfortable, dry mouth can have a big impact on your health. If left untreated, it can result in decreased enjoyment of food, poor digestion and tooth decay.

What Causes It?

Dry mouth is a common side effect of medications like antidepressants, diuretics and antihistamines. Cancer treatments, immune system disorders and nerve damage to the salivary glands can also affect your saliva production. Older people often experience dry mouth, though the condition isn’t necessarily caused by aging. No matter the reason, if you are experiencing dry mouth, it’s smart to consult your doctor to find the cause and get your salivary glands back in action.

What Can You Do About It?

There are several proactive measures you can take to reduce or eliminate your dry mouth symptoms.

  • Change the medication that’s causing it. If dry mouth is a side effect of a medication you’re taking, talk to your doctor about changing the medication or dosage.

  • Try artificial saliva. Your doctor may recommend a prescription medication or over-the-counter product like artificial saliva to help keep your mouth moist. If you prefer a natural treatment, try oil pulling with coconut oil—swishing a tablespoon of oil in your mouth for 20 minutes and then spitting it out—to moisturize the inside of your mouth.

  • Stimulate your salivary glands. Chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugarless candies can help you produce more saliva. You can also get your salivary glands fired up by sprinkling a little cayenne pepper on your food or adding it to juice to get your mouth watering.

  • Sip water all day. Frequent intake of sugar-free liquids can make it easier to chew, swallow and talk. Keeping a glass of water by your bedside can ease nighttime dry mouth, too.

  • Breathe through your nose. Snoring or sleeping with your mouth open is a big culprit in causing dry mouth. Try nasal strips to keep your airways clear and keep your mouth closed as much as possible. If you snore, look into treatment options that will improve your dry mouth and other unpleasant effects of snoring.

  • Add moisture to the air. Having a humidifier in your bedroom at night can keep your mouth and nasal passages moist.

  • Keep your lips lubricated. Dry mouth often leads to cracked lips, so always carry a tube of lip balm to maintain moist and conditioned lips.

  • Brush and floss often. Saliva cleans your mouth, so if you have less of it, you’ll need to boost your dental hygiene. Brush morning, night, and after meals, and floss every day. Visit your dentist at least twice a year to make sure your mouth and teeth stay healthy.

What to Avoid

In addition to following good habits for alleviating dry mouth, there are several “don’ts” that can keep you more comfortable. 

  • Cut back on caffeine and alcohol. These liquids can make your mouth dry and irritated, so reduce consumption where you can. Mouthwashes with alcohol might make your breath smell better, but they’ll make your dry mouth worse in the end.

  • Steer clear of cigarettes and tobacco products. Tobacco can irritate your mouth and do damage to your salivary glands.

  • Avoid over-the-counter antihistamines. It’s hard to endure allergy season without antihistamines, but the drying effect they have can make your mouth feel like a desert. Look for alternative solutions when possible.

  • Lower your sugar intake. Since saliva helps neutralize acids and prevent tooth decay, dry mouth creates the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive. Protect your teeth by cutting back on sugary foods.

Trying these tips can help your mouth feel better and improve your overall health. If you want professional help dealing with dry mouth, visit your doctor or dentist for advice on managing the cause and your symptoms. 

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 5
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.