Slideshow: Dry Mouth: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
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What Saliva Does
Dry mouth is more than just feeling thirsty. You get it when your mouth makes very little saliva -- or even none at all. What little saliva you have might be thick and stringy. Saliva helps you taste food and drinks and it helps you digest your food. It flushes food particles away from your teeth and helps prevent tooth decay. Another name for dry mouth is xerostomia.
Dry Mouth Can Mean Dry Skin
When you don't have enough saliva, the skin in and around your mouth gets dry and tight. Your lips might crack and you might get sores in the corners of your mouth. Your tongue might also feel rough and dry. And you might even have trouble swallowing or speaking.
Dry Mouth Side Effects
Because saliva isn't getting rid of food particles in your mouth like it should, you may get bad breath. If you wear lipstick, it may stick to your teeth because you don't have saliva to rinse it off. Dry mouth may also make you hoarse or cause a tickle in your throat.
Medicines and Dry Mouth
More than 400 types of medications can cause dry mouth, including non-prescription drugs for allergies and cold symptoms, and many prescription drugs for high blood pressure, overactive bladder, and mental health issues. You can also get dry mouth after some medical treatments such as cancer radiation, which can hurt the glands that make saliva. Chemotherapy sometimes causes saliva to thicken and make the mouth feel dry.
Nerve Damage Can Affect Dry Mouth
You can get dry mouth if you've had nerve damage after a head or neck injury. Some nerves carry messages between the brain and the salivary glands. If these nerves are hurt, they might be unable to tell the salivary glands to make saliva. Without saliva, it's hard to taste food because saliva carries flavors to nerve cells in the mouth and throat.
Other Causes of Dry Mouth
Dry mouth can be caused by a medical condition called Sjögren's syndrome. Sjögren's is an autoimmune disorder where white blood cells attack the body's tear and salivary glands. This leads to dry eyes and dry mouth. People with diabetes and HIV/AIDS may also have dry mouth.
Smoking Can Make It Worse
There are lots of reasons to stop smoking, and having a dry mouth is one of them. Smoking doesn't cause dry mouth. But smoking cigarettes, cigars, and pipes or using other tobacco products -- even smokeless ones -- can make dry mouth worse. Alcohol and caffeine can also make your mouth dry.
Dry Mouth Treatment
Talk to your doctor or dentist if you have a dry mouth. If you're not taking medicine that may be causing the problem, you may have a medical condition that could be causing your symptoms.
Take Care of Your Teeth
You can have problems with your teeth when you don't have enough saliva. That's why it's important to get regular dental checkups when you have dry mouth. Floss and brush your teeth every day to get rid of food and bacteria. If you can't brush right after you eat, at least rinse your mouth. Sip water throughout the day and use alcohol-free mouthwash.
Tips to Make Saliva
Check with your doctor to see if medicine might help ease your dry mouth symptoms. Sugar-free candy or sugar-free gum can help trigger your mouth to make more saliva. Non-prescription saliva substitutes may give you temporary relief.
Other Tips to Help Dry Mouth
Sip water often to help keep your mouth moist. But skip sugary, acidic, or caffeinated drinks. Drinking water or milk with meals helps with chewing and swallowing. Try sleeping in a room with a humidifier to ease dry mouth symptoms.
American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.
American Association of Neurological Surgeons.
American Dental Association.
California Pacific Medical Center.
Journal of the American Dental Association.
National Diabetes Education Program.
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
National Institutes of Health's Senior Health.
Sjogren's Syndrome Foundation.
University of Iowa Health Science Relations.
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.