Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is a condition in which the salivary glands don’t create enough saliva to keep the mouth properly hydrated. This results in a dry feeling inside the mouth for extended periods and can actually cause oral health problems if not addressed.
Medications the Most Likely Culprit of Dry Mouth
Although dry mouth can be caused by a variety of things, it is most commonly caused by taking any number of extremely common medications. A new study from the American Geriatrics Society shows that medications for urinary incontinence, high blood pressure, depression, insomnia and anxiety, among other conditions, can be linked to dry mouth. The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society, found that medication for urinary incontinence was six times more likely to cause dry mouth than a placebo or no treatment at all.
Hundreds of medications including prescription and over-the-counter drugs cause dry mouth, said David Buck, DDS, of Balance Epigenetics Orthodontics in Lynwood, Washington.
"It’s important to talk to your doctor first if you are taking a medication that causes dry mouth, as in many cases a substitute medication is available that does not cause this side effect," he said. "For those who cannot take a substitute or alternative medication, talk to your doctor or dentist about controlling and treating symptoms of dry mouth."
Other Causes of Dry Mouth
Medications aren’t the only cause of dry mouth. Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation can temporarily decrease saliva production, and in some patients this can become a permanent complication of the treatment. Injuries to the head or neck can result in nerve damage that affects saliva production. Health conditions such as diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune diseases can cause symptoms of dry mouth as well.
Lifestyle habits such as drug use, chewing tobacco, drinking alcohol, snoring or sleeping with your mouth open can also create a marked decrease in the body’s production of saliva.
Dry Mouth Can Wreak Havoc on the Teeth
Most people don’t consider the importance of saliva in their daily lives until their mouths suddenly aren’t making enough of it. Saliva is incredibly important when it comes to oral health because it plays a big role in preventing tooth decay by washing away food particles and neutralizing acid attacks that occur when eating or drinking, Buck said.
"Saliva is the mouth’s main line of natural defense against tooth decay," he said. "Without it, teeth are left vulnerable and are more prone to decay and gum disease, which can both lead to tooth loss."
Other oral health complications that can be caused by dry mouth include sores inside the mouth, a yeast infection of the mouth called thrush, trouble chewing and swallowing, cracked lips, and sores or split skin in the corners of the mouth.