What Causes Dry Mouth?

Closeup of woman with severely chapped lips, wondering what causes dry mouth

Almost everyone experiences a dry mouth from time to time. Normal daily activity or unusual stressors can all be part of what causes dry mouth for you. For many, it’s a minor inconvenience; but when a dry mouth turns into a chronic condition, it can result in serious dental health problems with lasting ramifications!

What Causes Dry Mouth?

The determination of what causes dry mouth can be challenging, because there are several factors that can have an effect on your mouth. For you, all that matters is one thing: is your mouth producing enough saliva to create a healthy dental environment or not?

When looking at potential sources of chronic dry mouth, there are a few major factors to look at:


Interestingly, chronic dry mouth is often a side-effect of a medication. In fact, The Academy of General Dentistry estimates there are more than 400 medications that cause dry mouth, with diuretics, pain medications, antidepressants, antihistamines, and decongestants (even over-the-counter brands) among the top culprits.

While not necessarily considered “medication,” other health-related events can be a trigger for periods of dry mouth too. Things like radiation treatment for head and neck cancers are commonly associated with an onset of dry mouth.

If something has changed with prescriptions you’re taking, over-the-counter medications, or even specialized treatments, it’s worth mentioning these to your dentist so they can be on the lookout for side-effects like dry mouth.

Health Conditions

There are several health conditions which can lead to chronic dry mouth. Salivary gland diseases, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, and hormonal changes which occur with pregnancy and menopause are known to cause chronic dry mouth. Finally, there are emotional triggers; stress and alcoholism are known contributing factors.

Smoking or Drug Use

In addition to alcohol consumption, smoking can be a major cause of chronic dry mouth issues. It may come as no surprise these days, when considering all the health side-effects that smoking can have on your body. Dry mouth plays into the larger picture of how smoking is debilitating for your oral and overall health, tying into other issues like tooth loss, severe inflammation, and even oral cancer.

On top of smoking, illicit drug use is likely to trigger spells of dry mouth.

Why Is Dry Mouth Bad for You?

In acute cases, it’s easy to see dry mouth as nothing more than an annoyance. For many, that’s really all it is – something you can handle by drinking a glass of water or eating fresh fruit. For chronic dry mouth suffers, however, the lasting effects are something to take seriously!

Saliva not only helps break down the food we eat into the nutrients our bodies need, it also helps to wash bacteria and food particles off teeth. Saliva also neutralizes the harmful acids these bacteria can produce. Without this natural defense, plaque and bacteria can build up quickly at the base of your teeth, creating the perfect environment for bad breath, tooth decay, and gum disease. Plus, saliva helps rebuild and re-mineralize tooth enamel – without it, your teeth can suffer a bacterial one-two punch.

According to the American Dental Association, chronic dry mouth can also lead to oral candidiasis, a fungal infection sometimes called “thrush,” and a painful oral condition known as “burning mouth syndrome.” Not only that, chronic dry mouth can alter your sense of taste, interfere with speaking and swallowing, and make dentures uncomfortable to wear.

Ultimately, if your mouth isn’t producing enough saliva, you’ll be on the road for dental health issues.

What Can Be Done About It?

Whatever the cause of chronic dry mouth – medications, disease, or another factor – the treatments for it include relatively simple, yet effective, lifestyle changes. If any of the causes above answered your question “what causes dry mouth” for you, then it’s fortunate that you may be able to make these adjustments and quickly see the benefits for your oral health.

Here are some great steps to take to reduce your risk of dry mouth, many of them being easy to add into your daily routine without much disruption:

  • Increase your fluid intake – keep a bottle of water handy and sip as needed throughout the day.
  • Treat yourself to sugar-free gum or candy to help stimulate saliva production – but make sure it’s sugar free or you could be setting up your teeth for a bacterial barrage.
  • Add an alcohol-free mouth rinse.
  • Eliminate or reduce your intake of caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated beverages (especially those with sugar).
  • Avoid acidic juices (e.g. tomato, orange, or grapefruit juice) and dry or salty foods.
  • If you’re a smoker, quit.
  • Keep up with your daily dental hygiene routine to help minimize decay. Brush twice a day and floss once each day to remove food debris and keep decay-causing bacteria at bay.
  • Most importantly, talk with your dentist. Tell them which medications you’re taking, and any other health issues that may contribute to the problem. Your dentist may recommend artificial saliva (available at pharmacies) to keep your mouth moist and additional fluoride products to help control tooth decay.

Any minor changes you can make to reduce dry mouth will go a long way towards avoiding cavities, inflammation, and other effects of bacteria in your mouth. You’ll notice a difference at your next dentist visit! 

Contact Walbridge Dental

Don’t let chronic dry mouth damage your healthy smile! From routine cleaning and exams to advanced restorative treatments to oral cancer detection, the professionals at Walbridge Dental provide complete family dental care to families in the Millbury community. Contact us online to set up an appointment now or call us at 419-836-1033.

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