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Got dry mouth? What you should know

Called xerostomia, dry mouth is characterized by a decrease in saliva. It’s a common effect of certain medications, health conditions and much more, and it can take a serious toll on your teeth.


Dry mouth can be caused by lifestyle choices, medical conditions and biological changes in the body. Here’s a quick list of some of the many factors that are associated with xerostomia:


  • Dehydration. Not drinking enough water, not surprisingly, can leave your mouth dry.
  • Sports and exercise. Intensive exercise, such as running, is notorious for drying out the mouth, since athletes inhale through the mouth
  • Cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Whether you smoke tobacco or chew it, this addictive substance cuts down your salivary flow and destroys cavity-fighting antibodies.
  • Alcohol. If you drink shots or gargle with an alcohol-based mouthwash, your oral tissues may be left dry and irritated.
  • Illegal drugs. Heroin, cocaine and amphetamines (such as MDMA and ecstasy) can all leave the mouth dry and vulnerable to decay.

Natural changes

  • Hormonal changes. Drops in estrogen, as after menopause, may be tied to dry mouth.
  • Age. The older you get, the more likely you are to suffer from xerostomia.

Health issues

  • Certain prescription drugs and medical treatments. A range of medications, from cancer treatments to antihistamines, can result in dry mouth.
  • Asthma. Use of inhalers can dry out the mouth, as can breathing through the mouth, a common result of asthma.
  • Sjögren’s syndrome. This autoimmune disorder results in dry mouth and eyes.
  • Type 2 diabetes. Dry mouth is among the symptoms of this systemic disease.
  • Eating disorders. Starving and purging can lower your body’s production of saliva.
  • Damage to the salivary gland. Whether caused by physical trauma or frequent vomiting, damage to this gland can cause problems with saliva production.
  • HIV/AIDS. Dry mouth is a common oral symptom among people who are HIV-positive.
  • Alzheimer’s disease. Forgetting to drink sufficient water and taking prescription drugs can both contribute to dry mouth among dementia patients.

Effects of dry mouth

Left untreated, xerostomia puts your mouth at risk for serious dental issues. Did you know that a survey of Olympic athletes revealed this group to be at higher risk for cavities? The culprit turned out to be dry mouth: a result of intensive exercise.

Saliva is responsible for washing away food particles, keeping your oral tissues moist and fighting cavity-causing bacteria. Your saliva even contains special antibodies that help stop decay before it starts. When you’re low on saliva, it’s easy for harmful bacteria to proliferate, leaving your mouth at risk.

Resulting issues may include cavities, gum disease, tooth loss, burning mouth syndrome, difficulty swallowing and problems with taste.

How to relieve dry mouth

Follow these tips to get relief and protect your teeth:

  • Drink more water.
  • Brush and floss twice a day.
  • Eat regular meals.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, carbonated beverages and smoking.
  • Avoid overly salty foods.
  • Avoid overly salty foods.
  • Use artificial saliva, available at your local pharmacy.
  • Visit your dentist regularly. Ask your dentist for advice specific to your situation.

If your dry mouth doesn’t go away after treatment, consult your doctor and dentist. The condition can be a sign of a serious illness.

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Last updated: April 2016

The oral health information on this web site is intended for educational purposes only. You should always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.