Xerostomia (Dry Mouth)

What is Xerostomia?

Caused by improperly functioning salivary glands, xerostomia (dry mouth) is considered normal when it happens occasionally, as when nervous.

If it becomes consistent, however, it’s cause for concern since chronic xerostomia can lead to lip irritation and increase the risk of experiencing tooth decay since saliva is necessary to minimize harmful bacteria and germs.

What are the Symptoms of Xerostomia?

  • Persistent thirst
  • “Dry” feeling in the mouth or throat
  • “Raw” or dry tongue
  • Hoarseness or sore throat
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Cracked lips or mouth sores

Contributing Factors

The functioning of salivary glands can be affected by any number of prescription or over-the-counter medications, including anti-anxiety drugs, cold medicines, and diuretics.

Diabetics, stroke survivors, dementia patients, and patients with chronic high blood pressure may also experience xerostomia. Damage to salivary glands can also cause dry mouth.

Xerostomia Causes

Xerostomia, or dry mouth, is associated with countless diseases, disorders, and assorted phenomena. However, there are typically several common reasons why someone may have xerostomia.

Drug use is most frequently associated with xerostomia because of its effects on the central nervous system. Both stimulants and depressants have a tendency to cause dry mouth. Nicotine serves as a great example of a recreational drug producing these effects. Non-recreational drugs may also cause xerostomia, such as immunosuppressants and others vital drugs that interfere with the ability of the body to produce saliva.

Genetics can also play a role in the development of xerostomia. Specifically, genes involved in the production of saliva enzymes may influence how much saliva is produced and how the body reacts accordingly. If a person has genes that tend to result in fewer saliva enzymes, that will often lead to that person having less saliva.

How is a Xerostomia Treated?

Diagnosed by oral or visual exam, xerostomia may be treated with saliva substitutes (Mouth Kote, Biotene Oral Balance) or use of a fluoride rinse or toothpaste. Regular use of a room humidifier may counter xerostomia resulting from excessively dry indoor air. Refraining from the use of tobacco products and limiting caffeine consumption can also be helpful.

Dry mouth can also be treated by:

  • Avoiding sugary or acidic foods
  • Having regular dental exams to check for related gum or mouth problems
  • Chewing sugar-free gum
  • Making adjustments to medications (with doctor approval)

Dry mouth may be the result of dehydration experienced following vomiting, diarrhea, excessive sweating, or fever. Breathing through the mouth may also affect salivary glands.

Xerostomia is often treatable and minimized by maintaining proper hydration, addressing underlying issues such as chronic snoring, sinus infections, or congestion that may result in mouth breathing, and taking steps to manage contributing conditions like diabetes.

Xerostomia Prevention

All though there are many causes of xerostomia, there are many ways to prevent it as well. Avoiding recreational drug use is an example of one way that someone can prevent themselves from developing dry mouth.

Unfortunately, some people must take medication that will invariably lead to dry mouth. For these individuals, it is important to also use medication that will promote the production of saliva. Vitamin A and Vitamin D are also known to play an important role in the production of saliva.

Additional steps to improve oral care can also make a huge difference in preventing xerostomia. Bacterial and fungal colonization of the oral cavity can lead to reduced saliva content. It is paramount that persons at risk of dry mouth brush their teeth, floss and use mouthwash to keep down levels of harmful bacteria and fungi. Failure to do so may result in dry mouth even in the absence of disease.

Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
September 08, 2017