Got Dry Mouth? The Causes May Surprise You


It starts with a tickle in your throat.  It feels something like an uncontrollable and persistent itch.  Your throat feels so dry you reach for a glass of water.  But a dry mouth, often referred to as xerostomia, can become more than an occasional thing.  Sometimes it’s not just because the air is dry in your home.

Your lips can become chapped or cracked, and it seems like no big deal on the surface; however, dry mouth can lead to more cavities and even gum disease if it’s persistent.  How?  Without sufficient saliva, your system cannot naturally wash away the plaque that clings to your tooth enamel.  Saliva also acts as a natural buffer and counteracts the acids released from the bacteria found in plaque preventing enamel erosion.  The biggest cause of dry mouth, and a lower saliva production, are OTC and prescribed medications.

The Biggest Cause of Dry Mouth can be found in your Medicine Cabinet

It’s true.  There’s a reason your dentist may ask if they need to update the medications you may be taking.

Some medications can enhance the effects of dry mouth.  Perhaps you’re experiencing a hoarse voice or difficulty swallowing.  Maybe on your last dental visit your dentist may have asked you if you still floss, although you haven’t changed your dental habits since your last visit.  Sometimes dry mouth can even lead to bad breath.

Dry Mouth can happen to anyone

Many studies refer to the fact that older individuals report dry mouth as a common condition.  While aging can contribute to a decrease in saliva, medications also play a part in its decrease.

According to WebMD, there are currently 400 medications that can cause dry mouth. Other medical databases indicate that there may be as many as 1800 medications.  Perhaps, the most common over-the-counter medications that cause dry mouth also happen to be the same medications that alleviate the symptoms of colds and allergies.  These are antihistamines and decongestants.

Obviously when you’re congested, it’s difficult to breathe through your nose, so open mouth breathing is common but this also dries your mouth.   Placing a humidifier in your bedroom as you sleep can increase the moisture in your room during dry seasons as well as ease congestion.

Some prescription drugs taken for hypertension can also cause dry mouth.  Alpha blocker and beta blockers are the most commonly prescribed.   ACEs (angiotensin-converting enzyme), which are used to treat diabetes, kidney problems and high blood pressure are also known to have dry mouth as a side effect.

According to the American Diabetes Association, people with diabetes often report having dry mouth. Not only can dry mouth occur as blood sugar levels peak, but can also be a side effect of the prescribed medications.  Of course, having diabetes means being extremely diligent about your dental care since it can increase the chances of cavities, gum disease and even thrush.

Water pills or diuretics are prescribed to treat a number of ailments including liver cirrhosis, heart failure, hypertension and some kidney diseases.  But again, it does come with the unfortunate side effect of dry mouth. Basically, it reduces the amount of salt and water found in your system by passing it as urine.  Diuretics lower blood pressure and makes pumping blood throughout your body easier on your heart.

Could you be making your Dry Mouth Worse?

You might be.  If you happen to smoke, drink a lot of caffeine or alcohol.  All these habits can increase dryness in the mouth, and switching to water can help keep your fluid levels up plus moisten your mouth.

Kicking the smoking habit is not an easy feat for many people.  Try reaching for a stick of gum instead of a smoke on your next break.  And if you’re having difficulties kicking the habit, talk to your physician about smoking cessation products that may help.

If you’re using a mouth wash with alcohol, you can worsen the problem.  Even hidden alcohol, like the alcohol found in mouth rinses can take a toll. Try a fluoride rinse instead.

You don’t stimulate your saliva.  Chew sugar-free candy or sugarless gum.  Chewing or sucking hard candy can stimulate saliva flow for fresher breath, and a cleaner mouth.  If that doesn’t satisfy, an apple or piece of celery can stimulate your saliva flow just as well.

You don’t drink a beverage with your meal.  Always have a glass of water, or some type of decaffeinated or alcohol-free beverage with meal or snack, and avoid foods that are overly dry.  Choose foods with a gravy or sauce to keep food from sticking to your enamel.

Most importantly follow a good dental regimen, and brush twice daily and floss at least once a day.  By becoming aware of your food choices and your oral health regimen, you can keep dry mouth at bay.

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