What is dry mouth?
Dry mouth is the condition of not having enough saliva, or spit, to
keep your mouth wet. Everyone has a dry mouth once in a while--if they
are nervous, upset or under stress. But if you have a dry mouth all or
most of the time, it can be uncomfortable and can lead to serious
health problems. Dry mouth is not a normal part of aging. So if you
think you have dry mouth, see your dentist or physician--there are
things you can do to get relief.
- Dry Mouth
- can cause difficulties in tasting, chewing, swallowing, and
- can increase your chance of developing dental decay and other
infections in the mouth
- can be a sign of certain diseases and conditions
- can be caused by certain medications or medical treatments
- a sticky, dry feeling in the mouth
- trouble chewing, swallowing, tasting, or speaking
- a burning feeling in the mouth
- a dry feeling in the throat
- cracked lips
- a dry, rough tongue
- mouth sores
- an infection in the mouth
*Note: Some people feel a dry mouth even if their
salivary glands are working correctly. People with certain disorders,
like Alzheimer's disease or those who have suffered a stroke, may not
be able to feel wetness in their mouth and may think their mouth is
dry even though it is not.
Why is saliva so important?
Saliva does more than keep the mouth wet. Without enough saliva you
can develop tooth decay or other infections in the mouth. You also
might not get the nutrients you need if you cannot chew and swallow
- helps digest food
- protects teeth from decay
- prevents infection by controlling bacteria and fungi in the
- makes it possible for you to chew and swallow
causes dry mouth?
People get dry mouth when the glands in the mouth that make saliva
are not working properly. Because of this, there might not be enough
saliva to keep your mouth wet. There are several reasons why these
glands (called salivary glands) might not work right.
- Side effects of some medicines: More than 400 medicines
can cause the salivary glands to make less saliva. Medicines for
high blood pressure and depression often cause dry mouth.
- Disease: Some diseases affect the salivary glands.
Sjögren's Syndrome, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and Parkinson's disease can
all cause dry mouth.
- Radiation therapy: The salivary glands can be damaged if
they are exposed to radiation during cancer treatment.
- Chemotherapy: Drugs used to treat cancer can make saliva
thicker, causing the mouth to feel dry.
- Nerve damage: Injury to the head or neck can damage the
nerves that tell salivary glands to make saliva.
What can be done about dry mouth?
Dry mouth treatment will depend on what is causing the problem. If
you think you have dry mouth, see your dentist or physician. He or she
can try to determine what is causing your dry mouth.
- If your dry mouth is caused by medicine, your physician might
change your medicine or adjust the dosage.
- If your salivary glands are not working right but can still
produce some saliva, your physician or dentist might give you a
medicine that helps the glands work better.
- Your physician or dentist might suggest that you use artificial
saliva to keep your mouth wet.
What can I do?
- Sip water or sugarless drinks often.
- Avoid drinks with caffeine, such as coffee, tea, and some sodas.
Caffeine can dry out the mouth.
- Sip water or a sugarless drink during meals. This will make
chewing and swallowing easier. It may also improve the taste of
- Chew sugarless gum or suck on sugarless hard candy to stimulate
saliva flow; citrus, cinnamon or mint-flavored candies are good
- Don't use tobacco or alcohol. They dry out the mouth.
- Be aware that spicy or salty foods may cause pain in a dry
- Use a humidifier at night.
Information for this
article provided by:
NIDCR (National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research)
NIH Publication No. 99-3174
Last Reviewed May 2005