Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, affects an estimated 22 percent of the population and becomes more common with age. Autoimmune diseases, smoking, nerve damage, and other conditions or habits can cause dry mouth, but the most common cause is medication side effects.
Why Do Medications Cause Dry Mouth?
Since medications are the leading cause, it may sound simple to help relieve most cases of dry mouth. But because more than 400 over-the-counter or prescription medicines have this potential side effect, it can be hard to narrow down the culprit. It’s helpful first to understand why so many prescription medications list xerostomia as a side effect.
In many cases, medications with strong correlations to dry mouth act on the central nervous system or at the neuroglandular junction, the place where a neuron synapses with a gland. Medications can cause dry mouth in different ways. For example, they can suppress the production of acetylcholine (ACh), a neurotransmitter that stimulates the production of saliva, by the central nervous system. When medication causes the central nervous system to suppress ACh production, the parasympathetic nervous system doesn’t get the message that it needs to stimulate the muscarinic receptors, which stimulate the salivary glands to produce saliva. Therefore, those receptors don’t trigger the secretion of saliva — and you feel like you have a mouth full of cotton.
Which Medications Cause Dry Mouth?
Several classes of medications, including those used to treat depression and anxiety; pain relievers, muscle relaxants, sedatives, antihistamines and decongestants; and medications for obesity, acne, epilepsy, hypertension, diarrhea, nausea, psychotic disorders, urinary incontinence, asthma, and Parkinson’s disease, are likely to list dry mouth as a common side effect. Certain medical treatments, such as chemotherapy, can cause damage to the salivary glands and dry mouth, too.
If you experience prolonged dry mouth and don’t know the cause, your medicine cabinet is an excellent place to look. Even if the medications you take aren’t on the list above, check the side effects listed by the drug maker or ask your doctor if xerostomia is a potential issue. Dry mouth is a common side effect that spans a wide array of medication types. Medicines may be even more likely to be the culprit if you take multiple medications each day.
Tips to Combat Dry Mouth Caused by Medication
Xerostomia can feel unpleasant, and discomfort isn’t the only problem. Dry mouth elevates your risk of gum disease, tooth decay, and certain mouth infections, so it’s important to address the cause and symptoms. Start with the following steps.
Talk to your doctor
Ask about your dry mouth symptoms. If you’re on any medications — whether they’re over the counter or prescription — mention them, and ask whether it’s possible to lower the dose or switch to a medicine less likely to cause dry mouth. Your doctor may have insight into other factors that could be causing dry mouth. For example, nasal congestion can cause you to breathe through your mouth, which can dry out your oral cavity.
Ask about saliva stimulants
Sugar-free gum can help stimulate saliva production. Plus, you may be able to take a medication designed to help you produce more saliva. Discuss the options with your doctor or dentist.
Drink plenty of water to keep your mouth moist. But don’t chug a jug of H20 right before bed, or you may wake up to use the restroom all night long. Instead, sip water throughout the day. Keep in mind that if you’re an athlete or if you increase your exercise, you may need more water than others to stay hydrated.
While sipping on water is a great way to stay hydrated, drinking too many beverages with caffeine or alcohol may lead to dry mouth. Enjoying these beverages in moderation may be fine. But if you struggle with dry mouth, cut down your consumption or eliminate them to see if your symptoms improve.
Run a humidifier in your room at night
Adding moisture to the air may keep your mouth from drying out while you sleep.
Address underlying lifestyle causes
If you chew tobacco or smoke, it may be time to quit, as they’re known contributors to dry mouth. Breathing through your mouth rather through your nose can also be a problem, so try to break this habit. However, keep in mind that if you breathe through your mouth due to nasal congestion, you may not want to reach for a decongestant for relief. Decongestants can also cause dry mouth.
Try a mouthwash or rinse
A rinse designed for dry mouth can soothe and lubricate the mouth. But avoid rinses that contain alcohol, which can increase dry mouth symptoms.
Dry mouth can be unpleasant. And, if ignored and paired with a less-than-diligent oral hygiene routine, it can lead to other more serious issues. If you think your dry mouth may be caused by medications, talk to your doctor and follow the above tips to find the relief you need.