Dry Mouth: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Dry mouth occurs when the body doesn't produce enough saliva, which causes a parched and uncomfortable feeling in the mouth. It is especially common in older adults, whose bodies produce less saliva.

Continuous dry mouth can be a sign of an underlying health concern, and untreated dry mouth can lead to faster tooth decay, bad breath, infections, and mouth sores. Other complications of dry mouth include difficulty speaking and swallowing, sore throat, loss of taste, and sensations like tingling or burning in the mouth.

This article covers the symptoms, types, and causes of dry mouth, diagnosis and treatment of dry mouth, and when to get help for dry mouth.

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Symptoms of Dry Mouth

Symptoms of dry mouth can include:

  • A sticky tongue and mouth
  • Thick saliva
  • Dry throat and tongue
  • Chapped lips
  • Trouble chewing and swallowing
  • Trouble speaking
  • Trouble tasting food
  • Tingling or burning in the mouth or throat
  • Bad breath
  • Mouth sores
  • Mouth infections
  • Tooth decay
  • Gum disease

Other parts of the body can also be affected by dry mouth. Symptoms of dry mouth throughout the body include:

Causes of Dry Mouth

Common reasons for dry mouth include:

  • Dehydration: Dehydration can thicken saliva and cause dry mouth.
  • Aging: About 25% of older people experience dry mouth, as the body produces less saliva with age.
  • Medications: Dry mouth can be a side effect of many medications.
  • Sjögren's syndrome: This is an autoimmune disease that attacks the salivary glands and eyes.

Other conditions that can cause dry mouth include:

  • Stuffy nose or breathing through the mouth: These changes in breathing can dry out the mouth.
  • Diabetes: High blood sugar can decrease saliva production.
  • Illness: Dry mouth can be a side effect of several conditions, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy can thicken saliva and make the mouth dryer.
  • Nerve damage: A head injury that reaches the nerves can affect the salivary glands and saliva production.
  • Radiotherapy: Radiation treatments, especially in the head and neck region, can cause damage to the salivary glands and affect saliva flow.
  • Salivary gland stones: At times, stones can block salivary glands. This can be caused by dehydration. Symptoms include swelling and pain.

What Medications Can Cause Dry Mouth?

There are many medications that cause dry mouth, including:

How to Treat and Prevent Dry Mouth

Some ways to treat dry mouth include:

  • Changing medications, if advised by a healthcare provider
  • Artificial saliva medications
  • Dry mouth products like mouthwash or gel
  • If dry mouth is a result of infection, antibiotics or antiviral medications
  • Treatment for underlying conditions like diabetes or Sjögren's syndrome

In extreme cases, like if salivary glands are blocked by stones, surgery might be required.

Preventing Dry Mouth

Drinking eight to 12 8-ounce glasses of water a day can help prevent dry mouth. Unsweetened fluids and avoiding caffeine from coffee, tea, or sodas can also help. Other preventive measures against dry mouth include:

  • Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods
  • Avoiding tobacco products
  • Eating watery foods (cucumbers, tomatoes, apples, celery, etc.) and chewing slowly
  • Avoiding sugary and crunchy food
  • Avoiding sugary drinks
  • Chewing sugar-free gum to create more saliva


Complications and Risk Factors of Dry Mouth

Dry mouth can be a sign of serious illnesses, like diabetes, HIV, or Sjögren's syndrome. Dry mouth might also mean that a medication for a chronic illness might not be the right one for you.

Other complications of dry mouth include:

  • Difficulty swallowing and chewing
  • Difficulty talking
  • Increased tooth decay (since saliva helps keep the mouth clean from germs)
  • Fungal infections in the mouth
  • Bad breath
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Oral yeast infections (thrush)
  • Loose dentures

Tests to Diagnose the Cause of Dry Mouth

Diagnosing dry mouth usually includes an examination of the mouth. Other methods of diagnosis include:

  • Saliva tests, including drying the lower lip of saliva to see if it remoistens
  • Asking about medical history and medications you're currently taking
  • Computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to check for stones
  • Tests for Sjögren's syndrome, which might include blood tests and dental tests to examine the salivary glands or measure how much saliva flows in the mouth
  • Tests for other conditions, like a blood glucose test for diabetes

When to See a Healthcare Provider

You should see a healthcare provider for dry mouth if:

  • The condition remains for a long time.
  • It's difficult to swallow.
  • There are white patches in the mouth.
  • You're experiencing burning sensations in the mouth.

Summary

Dry mouth happens when the salivary glands do not produce enough saliva, leading to a parched, dry feeling in the mouth. Dry mouth is most commonly caused by dehydration, aging, certain types of medication (including those for blood pressure, depression, and allergies), and Sjögren's syndrome, a disease that affects the salivary glands and eyes.

Treating dry mouth can include modifying medications under doctor supervision, artificial saliva medication, saliva-producing products like mouthwash or gel, and medications to treat infections that cause dry mouth. Treating underlying conditions can also help with dry mouth.

A Word From Verywell

Having a dry mouth can be uncomfortable, and it may also be linked to larger concerns. Long-term dry mouth could indicate undiagnosed conditions or issues with medication, and it can also cause tooth decay and gum disease.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to address dry mouth and to relieve its discomfort, whether that's through home remedies or getting checked by a healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes dry mouth?

    In addition to being dehydrated, dry mouth can also be a side effect of many medications and a sign of an underlying illness. Aging is also a common factor of dry mouth, since your body produces less saliva as you age.

  • How can I get rid of dry mouth?

    Treating dry mouth can include changing medications if you are on any under a healthcare provider's supervision. Drinking more fluids, chewing sugar-free gum, and avoiding caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and sugar may help. Testing for other health issues like diabetes or Sjögren's syndrome could also help.

  • Is dry mouth serious?

    Untreated dry mouth can increase tooth decay and gum disease while causing bad breath. It can also lead to difficulty swallowing or chewing, while also increasing the chance of yeast infections in the mouth called thrush. If dry mouth is a symptom of an undiagnosed illness, such as diabetes, it could become dangerous if left unexamined.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Dry mouth.

  2. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Dry mouth & older adults.

  3. NHSinform. Dry mouth.

  4. Better Health Channel. Dry mouth.

  5. Gupta S, Nayak MT, Sunitha J, Dawar G, Sinha N, Rallan NS. Correlation of salivary glucose level with blood glucose level in diabetes mellitus. J Oral Maxillofac Pathol. 2017;21(3):334-339. doi:10.4103/jomfp.JOMFP_222_15

  6. Kaae JK, Stenfeldt L, Eriksen JG. Xerostomia after radiotherapy for oral and oropharyngeal cancer: increasing salivary flow with tasteless sugar-free chewing gumFront Oncol. doi:10.3389/fonc.2016.00111

  7. Penn Medicine. Salivary gland stone.

  8. US Department of Health and Human Services. Dry mouth questions and answers.

  9. Sjogren's Foundation. Diagnosis.

  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes tests.

By Neha Kashyap
Neha is a New York-based health journalist who has written for WebMD, ADDitude, HuffPost Life, and dailyRx News. Neha enjoys writing about mental health, elder care, innovative health care technologies, paying for health care, and simple measures that we all can take to work toward better health.