Causes and Treatment Options for Dry Mouth

Researchers estimate that around one in four adults experience dry mouth. This statistic can increase to 40% when the person is 55 or older. These numbers indicate that dry mouth is one of the most common oral health issues.

What are the causes of this oral condition? What treatment options do you have to help manage or treat dry mouth?

This article outlines the causes of dry mouth and explains the different treatment options for this oral disorder.

Dry mouth can happen if you don’t have enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. If your mouth is dry, you can be exposed to various diseases like fungal infections or tooth decay.

If you’re experiencing dry mouth, consider controlling your breathing. This article explores the risks of overbreathing, especially when you do deep breathing exercises.

Learning the causes and treatment options can help you find ways to prevent or remedy this disorder. Read on to discover how you can keep your dry mouth under control.

Why Does Dry Mouth Occur?

Your saliva or spit is essential in the digestive process as it moistens and helps break down food in your mouth. Saliva helps remove pieces of food from your teeth and gums and contains phosphate and calcium that help fight tooth decay and keep your teeth strong.

If you have dry mouth due to low saliva levels, you can experience difficulties swallowing, chewing, and talking.

When your mouth’s salivary glands don’t produce enough saliva, they may not be working properly due to the following causes:

  • Medications: Many over-the-counter drugs and other medicines can cause dry mouth as a side effect.

Examples of drugs likely to cause such a condition are pain medications, antihistamines, muscle relaxants, decongestants, and those used to treat anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure.

  • Aging: As people get older, they can experience dry mouth. Factors like insufficient nutrition, changes in the body’s capacity to process medication, and long-term health problems can contribute to this oral condition.
  • Cancer therapy: Radiation treatments to the head and neck during cancer therapy can damage salivary glands, resulting in lower saliva production.

Chemotherapy drugs can also cause temporary or permanent changes to the nature and amount of saliva produced, depending on the radiation dose used on the treated area.

  • Nerve damage: Injuries or surgeries that damage the nerves in your head and neck area can cause dry mouth.
  • Alcohol and tobacco use: Smoking or chewing tobacco and drinking alcohol can increase dry mouth symptoms.
  • Recreational drug use: Using marijuana can lead to dry mouth. Methamphetamine can also cause “meth mouth,” characterized by severe dry mouth and tooth damage.
  • Other health conditions: Illnesses that can cause dry mouth include the following:
    • Diabetes
    • Stroke
    • Alzheimer’s disease
    • Thrush (yeast infection in the mouth)
    • Autoimmune diseases like Sjogren’s syndrome or HIV/AIDS (human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome)

Breathing with your mouth open and snoring can also result in having a dry mouth.

Treatment Options to Help Manage Dry Mouth

If you’re experiencing dry mouth, your healthcare provider can diagnose your condition and recommend an appropriate treatment.

For example, suppose you’re using medication that causes dry mouth as a side effect. Your doctor or dentist can adjust your dosage, change medications, or prescribe a saliva substitute.

In addition to your doctor’s advice, consider the following tips that may help manage the symptoms of your dry mouth:

  • Drink water during meals to help you chew and swallow. You can also sip water or sugar-free drinks during the day to moisten your mouth.
  • Chew sugar-free gum or suck on hard candies that don’t contain sugar. Products containing xylitol may also help prevent cavities.

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol typically used as a sweetener and may provide health benefits to oral hygiene. Xylitol may also stimulate the immune system, digestion, and bone and lipid metabolism.

However, consuming xylitol in large amounts may cause diarrhea. So consider taking products containing this ingredient in moderation to prevent such side effects.

  • Use over-the-counter saliva substitutes that contain xylitol, hydroxyethyl cellulose, or carboxymethylcellulose.

Oral products containing hydroxyethyl cellulose may help improve oral dryness. Studies show that this ingredient may have better soothing effects than a placebo among patients with post-radiation xerostomia (salivary gland damage after radiation therapy or chemotherapy).

Meanwhile, carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) is a cellulose derivative used in food products as a thickener or emulsifier (stabilizer). CMC-based artificial saliva may help reduce symptoms due to dry mouth.

  • Breathe through your nose, not your mouth. If you experience snoring that causes you to breathe through your mouth at night, consider seeking treatment.
  • Use a room humidifier to help add moisture to the air at night.
  • Moisturize your lips to soothe cracked or dry areas.

If you experience severe dry mouth, your doctor or dentist can also recommend the following:

  • Prescribe saliva-stimulating medication like cevimeline (Evoxac) or pilocarpine (Salagen)
  • Fit your teeth for fluoride trays filled with fluoride and worn over your teeth at night

To help protect your teeth and reduce the risk of dry mouth, visit your dentist at least twice a year for teeth examination and plaque removal.


  1. Facts and Tips: Dry mouth

  1. Dry Mouth

  1. Dry Mouth: Symptoms & Causes

  1. Dry Mouth: Diagnosis & Treatment

  1. Health benefits of xylitol

  1. Facilitated saliva secretion and reduced oral inflammation by a novel artificial saliva system in the treatment of salivary hypofunction

  1. Carboxymethylcellulose

  1. Effects of carboxymethylcellulose (CMC)-based artificial saliva in patients with xerostomia