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Dental Health Risks

Dry Mouth


Dry mouth can cause oral health problems because reduced saliva can lead to a rapid formation of tooth decay, especially at the gum line.

Saliva has many benefits to your oral and overall health. It:

  • Removes food particles from your teeth and gums.
  • Aids in the digestion of food.
  • Neutralizes acids created by bacteria.
  • Limits bacteria growth.
  • Helps you chew and swallow.
  • Contains calcium and phosphate, which help fight tooth decay.

Dry mouth is a condition where your salivary glands do not produce enough saliva to keep your mouth moist and healthy.

  • Medication: Many medications may cause dry mouth. These include antidepressants, antihistamines, decongestants, muscle relaxants, sedatives, and anxiety and pain medications. Other condition-specific drugs for urinary issues, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and Parkinson's disease can also cause dry mouth.
  • Aging: Many people experience increased dry mouth as they age. Contributing factors may include changes in your ability to process certain medications, poor nutrition, and long-term health problems1. Your saliva itself can change with age, causing alterations in salivary function.2
  • Alcohol and tobacco: Alcohol and tobacco can dry the tissues in your mouth.
  • Chemotherapy: The drugs used in cancer treatment can cause your saliva to become thicker, making your mouth feel dry.
  • Radiation to the head or neck: Radiation during cancer treatment can damage the salivary glands, reducing your amount of saliva.
  • Diseases and disorders: Diabetes, Sjogren's syndrome, HIV/AIDS, or salivary gland obstructions, cysts, or tumors.
  • Nerve damage in the head or neck: Injury to nerves can affect your salivary glands' ability to produce saliva.
  • Sleeping: Your airflow while you're asleep can dry out your mouth. Your saliva flow and acid levels can also change. The temperature of your mouth can also vary during sleep, which can raise dental disease risk factors.3
  • A lack of saliva can cause your cheeks, lips, and tongue to stick to your teeth or each other, causing a dry or sticky feeling in your mouth or throat.
  • Trouble chewing or swallowing, which can lead to nutritional issues.
  • Tooth decay, particularly near the gum line and between your teeth.
  • Mouth sores
  • Bad breath
  • A reduced sense of taste
  • Trouble speaking
  • Cracked lips
  • Enlarged salivary glands

Untreated, dry mouth may lead to other dental problems, including failure of dental work, denture sores, and thrush. If you wear dentures, dry mouth can also make it challenging to keep your dentures in place.

As part of your dental exam, your dentist will look at your mucous membranes. If they determine that the membranes are drier than normal, they will diagnose you with dry mouth.

  • If medication is causing your dry mouth, ask your doctor or dentist if there is a substitute. Changing medication dosages can also help in some cases, but always consult your doctor before changing or altering your medications.
  • Reduce or eliminate your use of caffeine drinks, alcohol, or tobacco (smoked or chewed).
  • Use alcohol-free mouthwash or consider using mouthwash specifically designed for dry mouth.
  • Drink more water, especially during meals.
  • Use sugar-free candy or gum containing the ingredient xylitol, which stimulates saliva flow. Keep in mind that xylitol may cause diarrhea or cramps if consumed in large amounts for some people.
  • Add moisture to your home's air through the use of a humidifier.

To help treat dry mouth, your dentist may prescribe a fluoride toothpaste, gel, rinse, or other medication designed to increase saliva flow or provide additional protection against tooth decay. If your condition is due to a salivary gland obstruction, cyst, or tumor, surgery may be necessary to correct the problem.

Your dentist may also recommend custom fluoride trays to more effectively reach areas prone to tooth decay.

  • Author: Symbyos staff, Fluent staff
  • Medical review: Thomas J. Greany DDS, 12/28/2020
  • Last updated: 12/13/2021