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Dry mouth – symptoms, causes, complications and risk factors

It is a very normal to have dry mouth occasionally. This is normal in cases when you are feeling nervous or dehydrated. But if you have dry mouth constantly, then this can be a sign of some underlying disease. If you have xerostomia which is unusually dry mouth, then you should visit your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor will tell you which the cause for this condition is. In the most cases this condition can be result from the side effects of medications. When your salivary glands (which are located in your mouth) are producing decreased amounts of saliva, then in this leads to dry mouth. Also there are chances to get dry mouth by a condition which is affecting directly your salivary glands. This is a very common problem. It can just disturb you a bit. But also there are chances to be lot uncomfortable which means that it can affect your overall health, enjoyment of food, affect your appetite and the health of your teeth can be lower. Saliva is washing away food particles, limiting bacterial growth and neutralizing acids which are produced by bacteria which prevents the tooth decay. Saliva also makes it easier to swallow and it can enhance your ability to taste. Enzymes in saliva also are aiding in the digestion. There are many causes for the dry mouth from which comes the treatment for the cause.

Symptoms of dry mouth

In the most or all the time if you are not producing enough saliva, then you can notice some of the next signs and symptoms [1,2]:

  • Gum irritation and gum disease
  • More frequent tooth decay
  • Problems wearing dentures
  • A changes sense of taste
  • Difficulty chewing, speaking and swallowing
  • Bad breath
  • Saliva that seems thick and stringy
  • Dryness in your mouth or throat

Also in some cases when you have dry mouth you can notice lipstick sticking to your teeth. If you have noticed that you have persistent symptoms and signs of the dry mouth, then you should visit your dentist or doctor.

Causes for dry mouth

  • Aging: When we are aging this does not mean that we will have dry mouth. Older people are taking more medications compared with younger people which can result in dry mouth. Also they have increased chances to get other diseases that lead to dry mouth. [3]
  • Medications: There are many medications which can lead to dry mouth. Here we can include over – the – counter drugs. Pain medication, muscle relaxants, decongestants, antihistamines, drugs for treating anxiety, nerve pain and depression can lead to dry mouth. [3]
  • Cancer therapy: When we use chemotherapy drugs for treating some type of cancer, then these drugs can change the amount of produced saliva and also its nature. This can be temporary condition because the normal salivary flow will return after this treatment is finished. Also the radiation therapies to your neck and head can make damage in your salivary glands which means that your salivary glands will produce decreased amounts of saliva. [4]
  • Nerve damage: If you have surgery or injury that is causing nerve damage to your neck and head area, this can lead to dry mouth.
  • Tobacco use: If you chew or smoke tobacco, then this can lead to increased symptoms of dry mouth. [5]
  • Methamphetamine use: If you use methamphetamine, then this can damage your teeth and also you will have severe dry mouth. This condition is also known as meth mouth. [6]
  • Other health conditions: HIV/AIDS and autoimmune disease Sjogren’s syndrome are health conditions which can also lead to dry mouth. When you have Alzheimer’s disease or stroke your salivary glands in the most cases are functioning normally, but these diseases are also making a perception of dry mouth. If you breathe or snore with your mouth open, then this can also lead to dry mouth.

Dry mouth

Complications: When you do not have enough saliva and when you suffer from dry mouth, then these conditions can lead to:

  • Poor nutrition from having problems with chewing and swallowing
  • Cracked lips
  • Sores or split skin at the corners of your mouth
  • Coated tongue
  • Fungal infection in your mouth
  • Mouth sores
  • Increased plaque, tooth decay and gum disease


[1] Altamimi MA. Update knowledge of dry mouth- A guideline for dentists. African Health Sciences. 2014;14(3):736–42.

[2] Tappuni AR, Wilson N. Dry mouth: advice and management. The Pharmaceutical Journal. 2018.

[3] Lee KA, Park JC, Park YK. Nutrient intakes and medication use in elderly individuals with and without dry mouths. Nutrition Research and Practice. 2020;14(2):143–51.

[4] Pinna R, Campus G, Cumbo E, et al. Xerostomia induced by radiotherapy: an overview of the physiopathology, clinical evidence, and management of the oral damage. Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management. 2015;11:171–88.

[5] Rad M, Kakoie S, Brojeni FN, Pourdamghan N. Effect of long-term smoking on whole-mouth salivary flow rate and oral health. Journal of Dental Research, Dental Clinics, Dental Prospects. 2010 Autumn;4(4):110-4.

[6] Clague J, Belin TR, Shetty V. Mechanisms underlying methamphetamine-related dental disease. Journal of the American Dental Association. 2017;148(6):377–86.

Hanan Marshal
Hanan Marshal
Hanan, a medical student (MBBS) having passion for writing and is very much interested in holistic living along with nature. He is very much interested in doing community service and watches anime and play PS4 during his free time. You can reach him through [email protected]


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