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Dry Mouth: Why It Happens and What to Do About It

dry mouth
Is your mouth dry as a desert? Creative Commons image by Moyan Brenn.

It’s normal to occasionally wake up with a dry mouth that feels like you slept with cotton in your cheeks. This often happens when you have a cold or are breathing through your mouth for some other reason. However, a dry mouth at other times can be not only annoying, but also detrimental to your dental health. Take a look at some of these reasons for a dry mouth, as well as suggestions for overcoming this uncomfortable condition.

Health Conditions

Several health conditions can cause you to have a dry mouth. Anything that affects respiration and causes you to breathe through your mouth is a common cause. This can be something as simple as a cold or as serious as pneumonia or asthma. Sjogren’s syndrome is a condition that can cause dry mouth. HIV/AIDS can also decrease the amount of saliva produced. If you’ve had a stroke or you have Alzheimer’s disease, you might feel as though you have a dry mouth, even if you don’t.


Many medications can dry up saliva and/or cause a bad taste in the mouth. Certain antibiotics can do this, as can antihistamines, decongestants and some pain relievers. Cancer therapy is also notorious for causing mouth dryness, as well as sores and infections that can make your mouth very painful. Many people experience dry mouth as they get older and might blame it on aging, but sometimes the cause is actually medication that you are taking.


If you smoke or chew tobacco, this can case a dry mouth. Methamphetamine use is another reason why someone’s mouth might be dry. Even sucking on sugar-filled hard candy can make your mouth feel uncomfortably dry, as can becoming dehydrated from not drinking enough or exercising too hard without rehydrating.

What You Can Do

If you suspect that medication is to blame for your dry mouth, talk to your doctor. Don’t stop taking any prescriptions without the express advice to do so. Sometimes, a medicine can be changed, but other times, you might just have to work around that side effect.

Sip water frequently during the day. If you’re having trouble breathing through your nose due to a sinus problem or a cold, running a humidifier or doing a saline rinse before bed might help. Brush and floss regularly, and ask your dentist if you should use mouthwash, but avoid the type with alcohol, as that will add to the dryness. If you want to suck on lozenges, choose a kind that does not contain sugar. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables and chewing sugar-free gum can also stimulate saliva production.

Talk to your dentist if you are experiencing dry mouth, because it can lead to tooth decay and gum problems. You might need more frequent cleanings if the condition persists.

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