What Causes Dry Mouth & How to Treat It

  • What Causes Dry Mouth & How to Treat It

It is quite common to feel dryness in your mouth, maybe because you don’t have enough saliva, dehydration, and even genetic disorders. Therefore, many people wonder how to fix dry mouth symptoms, and it is a rather frequent symptom in dental clinics. Up to 30% of people have experienced dry mouth symptoms, most of these symptoms are not as bad as to affect their quality of life, but in certain situations it can be accounted as a sign for yet other conditions that may need care and attention. Therefore, in this article we will cover why it happens, how it can affect you, and different dry mouth products and treatment options available.

What Causes Dry Mouth

The saliva in our mouth is what keeps it warm and moist, and salivary secretion is usually stimulated by chewing, smelling, and even thinking about tasty foods. These are reflex secretions that do not need to travel to our brain. However, our mouth is still hydrated between one food and the other because we have a resting flow rate controlled by the brain cortex. People with dry mouth usually have problems with the resting flow of salivary secretion, especially at nights because that’s the moment in which our brain cortex decreases the activity.

Dry mouth symptoms can also be due to a specific problem in the salivary glands, it can be a side effect of prescribed drugs, it’s reported by patients who underwent irradiation cancer treatment in their head or neck. But the most difficult to diagnose and treat is subjective dry mouth, because normal population and people who produce less saliva usually have very little to separate each other. There is wide variation between the normal flow rate of saliva in normal individuals, so it can be very hard to distinguish whether or not somebody is a hyposalivator.

Slow changes can make it difficult for some people to notice they have a dry mouth. For example, Sjögren’s syndrome is a chronic disease in which the secretion of all glands become thicker and scarce because of an autoimmune condition. This happens throughout time, and changes can be so slow that patients do not commonly report a dry mouth. There is even people with no salivary glands, and they often do not report having a dry mouth, maybe because they never felt it hydrated in the first place. But when a drug is to be blamed, usually the side effects develop quickly and patients are more likely to feel the difference and complain about it. Other causes can be very wide, for example cystic fibrosis, eating disorders, lupus erythematosus, chronic inflammatory bowel diseases, diabetes mellitus, thyroiditis, neurological disorders, mumps, and even the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

How to fix dry mouth symptoms

Saliva affects many different functions in our mouth, from chewing and swallowing to oral health. People with a dry mouth may be led to a poor diet, and since the antibacterial proteins of saliva are not there, the normal microbes in the mouth change drastically. These factor may lead to dehydration, undesired weight loss, and other health problems. This is why people with this condition need to know how to fix dry mouth symptoms and get rid of these undesirable effects.

There is no need to use any dry mouth products if the root problem can be easily solved. If the symptom comes after the use of a new prescribed drug, changing it for another option is maybe the best choice. However, when there is an organic reason to it, dry mouth can be more troublesome and may require artificial saliva, masticatory stimulation, and even stem cell therapy in some special cases.

Artificial saliva and similar dry mouth products provide relief from dry mouth for some time, it has the same viscosity as real saliva, and may work for many patients. However, artificial saliva do not have the same elasticity as real saliva, and this is the reason it won’t be retained in the mouth for a very long time. It is usually the best option for those patients who do not produce any saliva, or those who want to improve the physical properties of the existing saliva. There are many types of artificial saliva which may be suited for different patients, and very few studies to the date compare more than two choices, so it is not yet possible to point at the best artificial saliva.

It is a good idea to perform salivary stimulation to relieve dry mouth symptoms in anyone who still have operating salivary glands. An option to stimulate saliva production is through chewing gum and using throat lozenges, as they act through taste and mastication, both of which stimulate the production of saliva. Taste stimulation can provide faster relief, and masticatory stimulation prolongs the effects. However, dry mouth products of this nature should be sugar-free and acid-free to avoid hampering with the protective properties saliva has for the dental health.

Another treatment option, especially for those who underwent cancer treatment in the neck and head, ending up with a dry mouth, is gene therapy of the remaining cells. In these cases, stem cell therapy is being studied to restore the normal functioning of glands for longer time than other options. Other options such as proton therapy might also be possible to prevent hyposalivation.

So, if you are suffering from a dry mouth, keep in mind that sometimes this symptom is vague and unspecific. If you suddenly felt a change in your saliva production, check on any new meds you might be taking. If this has been an ongoing problem for months or years, there are many dry mouth products and stimulation treatments that may work for you. Your clinician will be the best one to tell you how to fix dry mouth symptoms, so don’t forget to visit your dental clinic if you are experiencing this or any other oral health concern.


Sreebny, L. M., & Vissink, A. (Eds.). (2010). Dry mouth, the malevolent symptom: a clinical guide. John Wiley & Sons.

Carpenter, G. (2016). Dry Mouth. Springer-Verlag Berlin An.

Author; Dr Jeremy Rourke, B.D.S. Hons. Syd Univ. Dental Surgeon

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My name is Jeremy Rourke. I’m part of a family of dentists with my father, brother, cousin and nephew also being dentists. I won a University of Sydney Dental Alumni prize for being the top student in my year and graduated with Honours in 1971. I have been a Registered dentist for over 40 years. In that time I have created a few “firsts” in my efforts to stay ahead.

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