What causes dry mouth?

If you’re here, it’s probably because you or a loved one have dry mouth.

You’re worried about what that might mean.  You’ve got questions, and you’re looking for answers.  You want to know why dry mouth occurs so you can manage it and get back to talking, eating and working without feeling uncomfortable.

If that sounds familiar, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we’re going to answer questions like:

  • What is dry mouth?
  • What causes dry mouth?
  • What are the effects of dry mouth?
  • How does dry mouth affect lives?
  • How can I get rid of dry mouth?

Before you keep reading, here are some statistics to think about.

  • 1 in 5 Australians suffer from dry mouth.
  • For older people aged 50+ years, that increases to 1 in 4.
  • Over 90% of people with dysphagia (swallowing difficulties) are affected.

If you’re living with dry mouth, you’re not alone.  Your friends, your parents, your grandparents … any of them could be suffering from dry mouth, just like millions of other Aussies from every demographic.

By learning about the root causes of dry mouth, you can better understand how to successfully treat it, and that’s why you’re here.

You’ve decided to say no to dry mouth, and yes to living.

What is dry mouth?

Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, occurs when your salivary glands don’t produce enough saliva to keep the inside of your mouth wet.

Saliva is essential for both your comfort and oral health, and suffering from dry mouth can lead to long-term health impacts, as well as self-consciousness, poorer job performance and an overall reduction in quality of life.

If you’re wondering how a lack of saliva can cause so many problems, skip ahead {link to “what are the impacts of dry mouth” section} to read about the impacts it has on ordinary Australians just like you.

What are the effects of dry mouth?

Dry mouth can lead to a variety of oral conditions, including:

  • Bad breath
  • Thick, sticky saliva
  • Dry, bleeding or swollen lips
  • A cracked, rough or dry tongue
  • Swollen, bleeding, discoloured or dry gums
  • Ulcers
  • Increased plaque, tooth decay, dental pain and gum disease
  • More food particles between teeth
  • Difficulty speaking, swallowing and eating
  • A reduced or altered sense of taste and smell

What causes dry mouth?

It’s normal to have a dry mouth when you’re dehydrated, stressed or anxious.  But if you’re regularly experiencing symptoms, it’s time to check whether you have severe dry mouth.

Dry mouth is a possible symptom in many different lifestyle and medical conditions which vary in severity.  Sometimes, problems with your body’s hydration levels mean your salivary glands don’t have enough fluid to produce saliva.  In other cases, there may be issues with the glands themselves.

Some of the most common causes include:

  • Dehydration
  • Radiation treatment for cancer
  • Certain types of medication
  • Extremely dusty or dry environmental conditions
  • Overconsumption of alcohol, sugar or caffeine
  • Smoking cigarettes or recreational drugs
  • Trauma to the salivary glands
  • Lots of talking (lecturing, teaching, telemarketing)
  • Pregnancy
  • Other health conditions, like dysphagia, diabetes or HIV/AIDS

What are the impacts of dry mouth?

You now know that dry mouth can occur for many reasons and can have severe effects on oral health.  Left unchecked, it can completely compromise your gums, teeth, tongue and mouth lining, and make simple tasks like eating and chatting with friends difficult.

But what are the long-term impacts?  What type of problems do sufferers of dry mouth have to deal with if their condition isn’t treated?

To understand, we first have to look at the role saliva plays in our mouths.  It’s not just a lubricant for swallowing – it also has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties, and helps protect our mouths from all sorts of oral diseases.  Without it, we’re more susceptible to severe infections like glossitis, gingivitis, periodontitis and oral thrush.

Saliva acts as a natural buffer by keeping the oral cavity at a pH range of between 6.2 and 7.3, which allows it to balance out the alkalinity and acidity of our mouths [1].  It does this by washing away food scraps that could contain bacteria, as well as by neutralising acids from food and drinks.

When we suffer from dry mouth, our salivary glands don’t produce enough saliva to help keep our oral pH levels balanced, which can lead to diseases.  Periodontitis, for example, occurs when our mouths become too alkaline (above pH 7.6); gingivitis needs more acidic conditions to develop [1].

While it’s incredible that our bodies have such a sophisticated system for maintaining oral pH levels, it’s also clear how important it is to keep our mouths moist.

Dry Mouth and Talking

If you suffer from dry mouth and you work in a position that requires lots of human contact, you’ve probably noticed how difficult it is trying to talk for hours on end.  That’s because saliva doesn’t just make talking easier.  It actually lets us produce certain sounds which, without it, we wouldn’t be able to make.

Overnight Dry Mouth

Do you wake up with a parched throat and thick, stringy saliva, even if you don’t suffer from dry mouth during the day?  Overnight dry mouth is pretty normal, and occurs when we sleep in drier conditions with our mouths open.

If you get out of bed with bad morning breath and a mouth that feels like cardboard, start the morning with a glass of water and a saliva-inducing spray like Osmist Dry Mouth Spray.  Other preventative measures can include sleeping on your side, installing a humidifier in your room and using a dry mouth spray like Osmist before bed.

How does dry mouth affect lives?

Dry mouth doesn’t discriminate by age or by gender.  It can affect anyone, and can have serious consequences for relationships, socialisation, mental health and workplace success.

Because of the high percentage of older Australians who suffer from dry mouth, it’s often viewed as an inevitable part of aging.  In fact, dry mouth has nothing to do with age.  Older people are more frequently affected by it because they take more medication, many of which have dry mouth as a side effect [2].  Other health conditions, like dysphagia, are also more common in the elderly [3].

Martha Rowe, speech pathologist and co-creator of Osmist Dry Mouth Spray, has worked on the front lines of aged care, and she’s seen the very real effects dry mouth has on the ability to swallow properly, which, left unchecked, can result in dehydration and poor nutrition intake.  It also limits socialisation, which is essential for the mental health of retirees and individuals in aged care.

Look at younger people, and we begin to see a different set of problems – mental wellbeing and the ability to work productively are both compromised by suffering from dry mouth.

In the case of Beryl, long-term school teacher, her awareness of oral health issues caused by dry mouth led her to cut back on spending time with friends.  She also struggled to keep up with the constant vocal demands of teaching, which made work less enjoyable.

Matt, a construction foreman based in Brisbane, suffered from dry mouth caused by excessively dry and dusty worksite conditions.  His job typically involved directing tradespeople, talking to clients and consulting with senior management, which was made infinitely more difficult by the inability to talk properly.  His job, initially a source of pride, quickly became a burden.

Matt and Beryl’s stories aren’t unusual.  They aren’t isolated.  They’re two examples of how dry mouth impacts ordinary Australians in the most fundamental ways.

Self-respect.  Earning capacity.  Relationships. Mental wellbeing.  Oral health.  Each one a casualty of severe dry mouth.

How can I get rid of dry mouth?

Dry mouth doesn’t have to be permanent.  Often, the underlying cause will be simple, easily fixed.  Other times, it won’t be as easy – but there are still ways to mitigate the impacts.

We’ve actually written an article about natural treatments for dry mouth [

1.     Drink more water.

Drink eight to ten glasses of water a day [4], but sip them slowly to avoid washing away the saliva that your mouth does produce.  Drinking plenty of water will help thin saliva and keep your mouth moist and clean.

2.     Suck on ice cubes.

Sucking on ice cubes throughout the day is a great way to keep your mouth moist and cool.

3.     Cut back on caffeine, alcohol, sugar, salt, alcohol-based mouthwashes and smoking.

Sugar, salt and alcohol can dehydrate your body, while alcohol-based mouthwashes, caffeine and cigarettes dry out your mouth, making the effects of dry mouth even worse.

4.     Practice good oral hygiene.

Brush your teeth, floss and use fluoride paste to prevent and minimise oral health problems like plaque and cavities.  A good oral routine won’t get rid of dry mouth, but it will help minimise the effects.

5.     Use a humidifier.

Environmental factors can exacerbate dry mouth, and using a humidifier at home or in your car can provide relief.  Add one to your bedroom or sleeping area to minimise overnight dry mouth.

6.     Change medication.

Some medications have side-effects which include dry mouth.  If your dentist or GP has advised you that your current medication might be causing dry mouth, talk to the healthcare professional who assigned you that particular medication.  They might be able to offer you an alternative that doesn’t dry your mouth and compromise your oral health.

7.     Add water to meals or eat soft foods

Hard, dry, sticky and crunchy foods can all make dry mouth worse.  To keep the effects of your dry mouth to a minimum, add water to meals when necessary, or eat soft/pureed food instead.

8.     Use Osmist All-Natural Dry Mouth Spray

There are plenty of saliva-inducing gums and mouth sprays available over the counter, but many contain sugar, toxic chemicals and carcinogens.  Osmist Dry Mouth Spray is Australian-made with natural ingredients that promote saliva production, like papaya enzymes and grapeseed oil.

It also provides on-the-go dry mouth relief.  It’s small enough to be carried around easily, and, at $12.95, it won’t break the bank.  One quick spray, and you can say goodbye to dry mouth for up to three hours.

Use Osmist as often as you like, whenever you like – spraying before meals can help you chew and swallow more easily, and using it after can help saliva return to your mouth, along with minty-fresh breath that will help boost your confidence.

Remember Beryl and Matt?  Their dry mouth still exists, but, with Osmist, they’ve been able to successfully manage it.  Beryl’s social life is back on track.  Matt can make it through an eight-hour day without discomfort.  They’ve both said no to dry mouth, and yes to life.

Even if your dry mouth stems from medication, radiation therapy or underlying conditions, Osmist’s all-natural formula can sooth, hydrate and moisten the mouth, relieving symptoms and making life more comfortable.

To learn more about dry mouth and how to manage it, click here.

To find out whether your might have dry mouth, use our free self-assessment tool.

If you have a persistent dry mouth (known as xerostomia), consult your healthcare professional (dentist or GP) so they can provide you with a diagnosis and determine the cause.

References

[1] Baliga, S. Muglikar, S. Kale, R. (2013) Salivary pH: A diagnostic biomarker.  Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology.  17(4), 461-465.  doi: 10.4103/0972-124X.118317

[2] Rowe, M. Lawn, C. Wilson, B. (2019) Effects of Papaya Enzymes in Patients with Dry Mouth. International Journal of Dentistry and Oral Health. 5(3), 16-19. dx.doi.org/10.16966/2378-7090.296

[3] Chan, D. Phoon, S. Yeoh E. (2004) Position Statement No. 12 Dysphagia and Aspiration in Older People. Australian Society for Geriatric Medicine. 23(4), 198-202. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-6612.2004.00050.x

[4] Popkin, B. M., D’Anci, K. E., Rosenberg, I. H. (2011) Water, Hydration and Health. Nutrition Reviews. 68(8), 439-458. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x