When your mouth makes little or no saliva, it affects more than just your thirst. Saliva helps you taste and digest what you eat and drink. It flushes food particles from your teeth and reduces the acids that cause tooth decay.
Lack of saliva makes the skin in and around your mouth dry and tight. Your lips may become cracked. Sores might form at the corners of your mouth. Your tongue may feel rough and dry. It may also be tough to swallow and talk.
Because saliva isn't flushing your mouth of food particles and debris regularly, people with dry mouth often get bad breath. If you wear lipstick, it might end up on your teeth because there’s nothing there to rinse it off. Feeling hoarse or have a tickle in your throat? Dry mouth may be the cause.
More than 400 types of medicine can cause dry mouth, including over-the-counter drugs for allergies and cold symptoms. Prescription drugs for high blood pressure, overactive bladder, and mental health problems can also cause it. Radiation can damage salivary glands, and chemotherapy can cause saliva to thicken and make your mouth feel dry.
Nerve damage from a head or neck injury can lead to dry mouth. Some nerves carry messages between the brain and the salivary glands. If these nerves are damaged, they may not be able to tell the salivary glands to make saliva.
Dry mouth can be caused by a medical condition called Sjögren's syndrome. It's an autoimmune disorder in which white blood cells attack the body's tear and salivary glands. People with diabetes or HIV can also get dry mouth.
There are plenty of reasons to quit smoking, and having dry mouth is one of them. Smoking doesn’t cause dry mouth. But smoking cigarettes or cigars, or using pipes or other tobacco products, even smokeless ones, can aggravate it.
Talk to your doctor or dentist if you're suffering from dry mouth. If you're not taking medications that cause it, your symptoms might point to an undiagnosed medical condition like Sjögren's syndrome or diabetes.
A lack of saliva can be harmful to your teeth. Regular dental checkups are essential if you have dry mouth. Brush and floss every day. If you can't brush after eating, rinse. Sip water frequently throughout the day, and use alcohol-free antiseptic mouthwash daily.
Reviewed by Michael Friedman, DDS on November 01, 2015
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