Symptoms and causes

Symptoms

If you're not producing enough saliva, you may notice these signs and symptoms all or most of the time:

  • Dryness or a feeling of stickiness in your mouth
  • Saliva that seems thick and stringy
  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty chewing, speaking and swallowing
  • Dry or sore throat and hoarseness
  • Dry or grooved tongue
  • A changed sense of taste
  • Problems wearing dentures

In addition, dry mouth may result in lipstick sticking to the teeth.

When to see a doctor

If you've noticed persistent dry mouth signs and symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor.

Causes

Dry mouth is caused when the salivary glands in the mouth don't make enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. These glands may not work properly as the result of:

  • Medications. Hundreds of medications, including many over-the-counter drugs, produce dry mouth as a side effect. Among the more likely types to cause problems are some of the drugs used to treat depression, high blood pressure and anxiety, as well as some antihistamines, decongestants, muscle relaxants and pain medications.
  • Aging. Many older people experience dry mouth as they age. Contributing factors include the use of certain medications, changes in the body's ability to process medication, inadequate nutrition, and having long-term health problems.Cancer therapy. Chemotherapy drugs can change the nature of saliva and the amount produced. This may be temporary, with normal salivary flow returning after treatment is completed. Radiation treatments to your head and neck can damage salivary glands, causing a marked decrease in saliva production. This may be temporary or permanent, depending on the radiation dose and area treated.
  • Nerve damage. An injury or surgery that causes nerve damage to your head and neck area can result in dry mouth.
  • Other health conditions. Dry mouth can be due to certain health conditions, such as diabetes, stroke, yeast infection (thrush) in your mouth or Alzheimer's disease, or due to autoimmune diseases, such as Sjogren's syndrome or HIV/AIDS. Snoring and breathing with your mouth open also can contribute to dry mouth.
  • Tobacco and alcohol use. Drinking alcohol and smoking or chewing tobacco can increase dry mouth symptoms.
  • Recreational drug use. Methamphetamine use can cause severe dry mouth and damage to teeth, a condition also known as "meth mouth." Marijuana also can cause dry mouth.

Complications

If you don't have enough saliva and develop dry mouth, this can lead to:

  • Increased plaque, tooth decay and gum disease
  • Mouth sores
  • Yeast infection in your mouth (thrush)
  • Sores or split skin at the corners of your mouth, or cracked lips
  • Poor nutrition from having problems with chewing and swallowing
Aug. 10, 2017
References
  1. Dry mouth. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/DryMouth/DryMouth.htm. Accessed Feb. 15, 2017.
  2. Dry mouth? Don't delay treatment. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm254273.htm. Accessed Feb. 15, 2017.
  3. Xerostomia (dry mouth). American Dental Association. http://www.ada.org/en/member-center/oral-health-topics/xerostomia. Accessed Feb. 15, 2017.
  4. Xerostomia. Merck Manual Professional Version. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dental-disorders/symptoms-of-dental-and-oral-disorders/xerostomia. Accessed Feb. 15, 2017.
  5. Dry mouth. Natural Medicines. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com. Accessed Feb. 15, 2017.
  6. Xerostomia. American Academy of Oral Medicine. http://www.aaom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=107:xerostomia&catid=22:patient-condition-information&Itemid=120. Accessed Feb. 16, 2017.
  7. Xylitol. Natural Medicines. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com. Accessed Feb. 15, 2017.
  8. Dry Mouth. American Academy of Oral Medicine. http://www.aaom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=124:dry-mouth&catid=22:patient-condition-information&Itemid=120. Accessed Feb. 16, 2017.
  9. Wilkinson JM (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Feb. 27, 2017.