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What causes xerostomia or dry mouth?

Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, can be caused by several different things. The most common cause of dry mouth is a side effect to medications -- everything from chemotherapy to antihistamines. Some types of nerve damage in the head and neck area and diseases can also cause dry mouth. A blockage of the salivary glands may also cause dry mouth.
Dry mouth is often caused by lack of saliva. It is a complaint rather than a disease. Another name for dry mouth is xerostomia. More than 400 prescribed and over-the-counter medicines can cause dry mouth. These include:
  • medicines for allergies, colds and high blood pressure
  • pain killers
  • drugs to reduce depression
Read the drug insert that comes with your medicines. If you think one or more of them may be causing dry mouth, tell your dentist, hygienist or physician. In some cases, a change in medicine may give relief.

Aging as such is not to blame for dry mouth. Instead, dry mouth is caused by other factors. These can include:
  • radiation treatment for head and neck cancers
  • salivary gland disease
  • emotional stress
Dry mouth may be caused by hyperglycemia (too much blood sugar). This can occur either if you ate too much sugar and took too little insulin, or you took too little insulin to compensate for your meal. It is important to make sure your medication lines up with your meals. For those patients with diabetes who frequently experience dry mouth, there are several treatments for this uncomfortable and annoying condition:

Take frequent sips of water throughout the day may help, limit your alcohol or caffeine intake since they have mild diuretic effects that could lead to dry mouth and dehydration, try a saliva substitute sold at pharmacies nationwide, fluoride mouthrinses may also help under the guidance of your dentist. If you chew gum or mints, always use sugarless products, something most diabetics watch for anyway.
There are many medications that cause xerostomia; for example, narcotics and anti-depressants.

Radiation treatment to the head and neck for cancer can cause dry mouth.

There are systemic conditions like Sjogren's syndrome that cause dry mouth.

Dry mouth can also be experienced after sleep. Some of that is normal and some may be an indication of breathing through the mouth during sleep. Breathing through the nose is healthier than through the mouth.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.