An attractive thirty-something female drinks water to combat xerostomia.

Dry Mouth or Xerostomia – What Causes It?


Xerostomia, or dry mouth, affects nearly a quarter of the population. It’s caused by hyposalivation – when the body doesn’t produce enough saliva. Because healthy salivary production has a biologically antiseptic effect, people affected with xerostomia experience a higher risk of tooth decay, which can lead to a number of other oral complications. In addition to being a symptom of several diseases and conditions, xerostomia has a wide variety of causes that stem from everyday life and can be deceptively hard to avoid.

In addition to being a symptom of several diseases and conditions, xerostomia has a wide variety of causes that stem from everyday life and can be deceptively hard to avoid. Let’s find out some of the more common causes of xerostomia.

Causes of Xerostomia

Intense physical exertion resulting in dehydration can catalyze xerostomia. Runners, especially distance runners, are actually at risk for chronic dry mouth.

Slightly less healthy habits like drinking alcohol and smoking or chewing tobacco can increase dry mouth symptoms. It’s also one of the major side effects of smoking or ingesting Marijuana, which can also lead to other orally damaging practices like consuming sugary, carbonated and acidic foods. More dangerously, Methamphetamine use can cause “meth mouth,” severe dry mouth and damage to teeth.

Commonplace medications are also among the major causes of xerostomia. Hundreds of medications – even several over-the-counter drugs – produce dry mouth as a side effect. Some drugs used to treat depression, anxiety, and high blood pressure, as well as several antihistamines and decongestants, list dry mouth as a side effect. Muscle relaxants and opioid pain medications can also cause xerostomia.

Cancer treatments also result in chronic dry mouth. Chemotherapy can change the protein makeup of saliva and the amount produced.  Radiation can damage salivary glands, decreasing output.

Even simply aging can make xerostomia worse. Many elderly people experience dry mouth as they age, often exacerbated by the use of certain medications, changes in their bodies’ ability to process medication, inadequate nutrition, and of course having other long-term health problems.

The Consequences of Dry Mouth

Dry mouth can lead to increased plaque, tooth decay, gum disease, mouth sores, thrush, cracked lips, split skin, and even poor nutrition from difficulty chewing and swallowing.  While they’re extremely common, xerostomia and hyposalivation are not to be taken lightly. Our bodies adapt to minor changes and we may not notice the change.

Your dental care provider should screen and diagnose this condition during your dental visit. If you feel that your mouth is dry frequently and need drinking water frequently you may suffer from this condition. Ask your dental provider how to manage this condition. At PreserveYourTeeth ® Dentistry we design every custom protocol to every patient to prevent the catastrophic destruction of their teeth.

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