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Dry mouth is a symptom that results from a lack of saliva. Individuals with dry mouth do not have enough saliva to keep their mouth wet.

The condition is also informally known as:

  • xerostomia
  • pasties
  • cottonmouth
  • drooth
  • doughmouth
  • des

This article will look at the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of dry mouth.

Here are some key points about dry mouth. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.

  • Dry mouth is more prevalent in the aging population
  • It is commonly a side effect of medications.
  • Symptoms include cracked lips, bad breath, and sticky saliva
  • Individuals with dry mouth should avoid spicy foods and sugary drinks

Possible causes of dry mouth include:

Medications: Many prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications cause dry mouth, including:

Age: Even though dry mouth is not a typical part of aging, older adults tend to take more medications than the rest of the population. Many of these medications cause dry mouth.

Cancer treatment: Cancer Research U.K. indicates that radiation to the head and neck can damage the salivary glands, resulting in less saliva being produced. Chemotherapy can change the nature of the saliva, as well as how much of it the body produces.

Injury or surgery: Nerve damage to the head and neck area can result in dry mouth.

Tobacco: Either chewing or smoking tobacco increases the risk of dry mouth.

Dehydration: This is caused by a lack of sufficient fluids.

Exercising or playing in the heat: The salivary glands may become dry as bodily fluids are concentrated elsewhere in the body. Dry mouth is more likely if a person exercises or plays for a long time.

Some health conditions and habits can cause dry mouth, such as:

Signs and symptoms associated with a dry mouth may include:

  • bad breath
  • cheilitis, or inflammation, splitting, and cracking of the lips
  • cracking and splitting of the oral mucosa, or the inner lining of the cheeks and lips, in which the skin at the corners of the mouth may split or become sore
  • dysgeusia, or taste disorders
  • fungal infections in the mouth, such as oral thrush
  • glossodynia, or tongue pain
  • an increased need to drink water, especially at night
  • inflammation of the tongue or tongue ulcers
  • more frequent gum disease
  • more tooth decay and plaque
  • problems speaking
  • problems swallowing and chewing — especially dry and crumbly foods, such as crackers or cereals
  • problems wearing dentures — problems with keeping dentures in, denture sores, and the tongue sticking to the roof of the mouth
  • sialadenitis, a salivary gland infection
  • a sore throat
  • sticky or stringy saliva

There are many ways to keep the mouth lubricated and prevent dry mouth.

These include:

  • sipping noncarbonated, sugar-free fluids
  • chewing gum that contains xylitol, available for purchase online
  • using a carboxymethyl cellulose saliva substitute as a mouthwash
  • avoiding mouthwashes that contain alcohol. A range of alcohol-free mouthwash is available for purchase online.
  • not wearing dentures during sleep
  • breathing through the nose, as this does not dry the mouth to the same extent as breathing through the mouth
  • using a humidifier to add moisture to a bedroom, which may help reduce dry mouth that develops during sleep. Humidifiers are available for purchase online.

Individuals should avoid:

  • chewing or smoking tobacco
  • sugary foods or drinks
  • acidic foods or drinks
  • dry foods
  • spicy foods
  • excessively hot or cold drinks

Alcohol consumption should be kept to a minimum or avoided altogether, and caffeine should only be consumed in moderation.

Treatment for dry mouth depends on several factors, such as whether the person has an underlying condition or disease, or is taking certain medications that may be causing dry mouth.

If an underlying cause is found, taking certain steps can minimize its effect.

Medications: If a particular medication is thought to cause the dry mouth, the doctor will either adjust the dosage or prescribe another drug that is less likely to cause dry mouth.

Stimulating saliva production: A doctor may prescribe medication, such as pilocarpine (Salagen) or cevimeline (Evoxac), to stimulate the production of saliva.

Treatment for the symptoms of dry mouth typically includes four areas:

  • increasing the flow of saliva
  • replacing lost secretions
  • managing dental cavities
  • taking specific measures, such as treating infections

A person with dry mouth should pay special attention to oral and dental hygiene. Brushing teeth and flossing regularly are important. Other important steps include plaque removal and treating:

  • gum infections
  • inflammation
  • dental cavities

The doctor or dentist will likely examine the patient’s mouth and review their medical history. They may also order blood tests and imaging scans of the salivary glands.

Sialometry: This is a simple procedure that measures the flow rate of saliva. Collection devices are placed over the duct openings of the saliva glands, and saliva production is stimulated with citric acid.

Sialography: This is a radiographic examination of the salivary glands and ducts. It may be useful in identifying salivary gland stones and masses.

Biopsy: A healthcare professional takes a small sample of salivary gland tissue. A biopsy may be done if blood tests, eye tests, and salivary flow tests are not leading to a diagnosis. If cancer is suspected, the doctor may also order a biopsy.

According to a 2015 review, doctors often report that, even though a patient complains of severe dry mouth, the oral mucosa appears to be moist. Less frequently, it may be the opposite — the oral mucosa appears dry, but the individual does not complain of dry mouth symptoms.

Most people get a dry mouth sometimes. It can happen when someone is upset, under stress, or extremely frightened. Xerostomia is different — with this condition, the individual’s mouth is dry most of the time.

Xerostomia is a common problem. It is a frequent side effect of medication, which may improve with a new prescription or an adjusted dosage.

Experts say that xerostomia is often caused by inadequate functioning of the salivary glands. An individual with xerostomia typically finds it harder to enjoy food.

Xerostomia may be a symptom of a serious systemic disease, which is a disease that affects the entire body. Possible systemic causes include:

What is dry mouth a symptom of?

A variety of health conditions can cause dry mouth. These include:

  • anxiety disorders
  • depression
  • HIV and AIDS
  • Sjögren’s
  • diabetes
  • stroke
  • Alzheimer’s disease

Many prescription and OTC medications can also cause dry mouth.

Is dry mouth a symptom of COVID?

People have reported dry mouth as a symptom of COVID-19. A small 2021 study of 10 patients who tested positive for COVID-19 found that 60% reported dry mouth.

What does a dry mouth at night mean?

Sleeping with an open mouth and snoring are the two most likely reasons why a person would experience dry mouth at night. Mouth breathing may be caused by:

What could dry mouth and fatigue mean?

Dry mouth coupled with fatigue may indicate that a person is dehydrated. Sometimes it can mean that a person has Sjögren’s, an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the glands that produce tears and saliva.

What are some home remedies for dry mouth at night?

Some people find that adding moisture to the air with a humidifier can help with dry mouth at night. Staying hydrated and keeping a glass of water nearby at night may help.

Dry mouth is a condition in which the glands in the mouth are not producing enough saliva. While there can be natural differences in saliva production, persistent dry mouth may be a symptom of a health condition or illness, or can be triggered by certain activities or habits.

Many medications can cause dry mouth. Dry mouth can also be caused by:

  • cancer treatment
  • Sjögren’s
  • HIV and AIDS
  • diabetes

Symptoms of dry mouth include cracked or dry lips, a sore throat, and sticky or stringy saliva.

While older adults are more likely to take medications associated with dry mouth, the condition is not a typical part of aging. A person with dry mouth should pay special attention to oral and dental hygiene.

People can take steps to improve dry mouth, such as:

  • sipping water
  • chewing sugarless gum
  • sucking on sugarless hard candy
  • avoiding caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, and spicy foods