Medically Approved

7 reasons your mouth is always dry (and what to do about it) 

Man outside drinking a glass of water

When your mouth doesn’t have enough saliva, it can cause serious dental problems. These expert tips can offer relief. 

Rosemary Black

By Rosemary Black

Everyone has a dry mouth once in a while. You finish a workout and suddenly realize you’re parched. Or you’re so nervous about an upcoming event that you feel as if your mouth has no saliva.  

But if you have a dry mouth on more days than not, that’s a different story. Not only can this medical condition be uncomfortable, but it can also cause serious health problems.  

With dry mouth, or xerostomia, you don’t have enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. People who have it may experience trouble chewing, swallowing or even talking. And it can hurt your mouth in the long run. 

“You need saliva for a lot of reasons, and a big one is keeping your teeth and gums healthy,” says Kathryn Boling, MD, a family medicine doctor at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. Saliva contains minerals that help keep teeth strong and keep harmful germs in check. And when you don’t have enough, it increases your risk for tooth decay and fungal infections in your mouth. 

Dry mouth may be caused by something simple (how much water have you had to drink today?). Or it could spring from something more complicated, such as nerve damage. 

Here are the top 7 reasons for dry mouth, plus advice on how to get relief.  

Reason #1: You take medication with dry mouth as a side effect 

Medication side effects are a top cause of dry mouth, Dr. Boling says. In fact, the American Dental Association (ADA) notes that more than 400 prescription and over-the-counter medications can contribute to dry mouth or make it worse. 

The most common offenders block a chemical messenger in your body called acetylcholine. They’re called anticholinergics. And they include certain medications for: 

  • High blood pressure 
  • Allergies 
  • Asthma 
  • Overactive bladder 
  • Anxiety and depression 

That said, you should never just stop a medication on your own. Talk with your doctor about your symptoms and whether your medications could be playing a role. You may be able to switch to a different medication or lower the dose of an existing one. (Don't forget to bring your free Optum Perks prescription discount card with you to the pharmacy. This is how it works.) 

Reason #2: You don’t drink enough water 

This might seem obvious. But it’s likely that many of us are simply not hydrated enough. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. adults drink an average of 39 ounces of water a day. That’s a little shy of 5 cups. While there’s no set amount we should all aim for, a reasonable goal for most folks is about 8 cups of water per day. 

Drinking and eating enough fluids helps our brain and heart work. And it ensures that we have enough stores to make saliva. 

Reason #3: You’re really nervous or stressed 

That looming deadline could trigger your fight-or-flight response. “When your body is flooded with adrenaline, it diverts fluids to the sweat glands and other organs,” says Nadia Khan, MD. She’s an internist at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, Illinois. “This results in less saliva production.” 

And, she adds, when people are anxious, they tend to breathe through their mouth. That can lead to a dry mouth, too. 

Reason #4: You use an alcohol-based mouthwash 

Alcohol is drying, Dr. Boling says. And it could inhibit saliva production, so using an alcohol-based mouthwash may make dry mouth worse.  

The American Dental Association recommends using an alcohol-free, fluoride-containing mouth rinse to help manage dry mouth. The fluoride helps protect your teeth from cavities.  

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Reason #5: You have Sjogren’s syndrome 

It’s a condition in which your immune system attacks the glands that produce saliva and tears. The main symptoms are dry eyes and a dry mouth. 

Thankfully, it’s not common. According to the Cleveland Clinic, about 1 to 4 million Americans have Sjogren’s syndrome. And it can go hand-in-hand with other autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus

Reason #6: You’re undergoing cancer treatment 

Medications used to treat cancer can change the thickness of your saliva and how much you produce, according to the American Cancer Society. Most people find that this is temporary. Their dry mouth symptoms go away after they stop treatment. 

Also, radiation of the head and neck can damage salivary glands. Your treatment type and dose will determine whether the effect is temporary. 

Reason #7: You have nerve damage 

An injury to the head or neck can damage the nerves that instruct your salivary glands to make saliva. “With time, some nerves may partially regenerate,” Dr. Kahn says. “But this is uncommon, and usually the effects are permanent.” 

Finding relief from dry mouth 

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to get relief from dry mouth. 

“You could chew gum or suck on a mint, both of which can increase your saliva production,” Dr. Boling says. Sipping water frequently, eating ice chips or popping a sugar-free candy in your mouth can also help. Some of the sugar-free chewing gums and candies contain xylitol and might help prevent cavities, too. 

Some foods and drinks can cause pain or make dry mouth worse. Here are some to avoid: 

  • Spicy and salty foods 
  • Caffeinated drinks 
  • Alcoholic beverages 
  • Tobacco products 

There are medications that can offer relief. “Pilocarpine is a commonly used prescription medication for dry mouth,” Dr. Khan says. In addition to pilocarpine (Salagen®), another medication to consider is cevimeline (Evoxac®). Both stimulate saliva production. 

Biotene® is another over-the-counter option. It’s a mouth-moisturizing rinse that’s been shown to offer soothing and lubricating relief. Even better, it has a seal of acceptance from the ADA. 

If you’re dealing with dry mouth, it’s best to not panic. The cause is usually something you can manage on your own, such as making sure you’re well hydrated. But if you’re concerned, talk to your doctor. And if you need prescription medication to manage this or another condition, download our mobile coupon app to find discounts and deals at pharmacies near you.  

 

Additional sources
Background on xerostomia: American Dental Association 
U.S. hydration statistics: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 
Facts about Sjogren’s syndrome: Cleveland Clinic 
Dry mouth during cancer treatment: American Cancer Society 

 

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