Dealing with Xerostomia: Common Culprits Behind Dry Mouth

Are you dealing with Xerostomia or dry mouth? If so, you’re not alone. According to the American Dental Association, up to one-third of adults over the age of 65 suffer from dry mouth. A dry mouth occurs when the salivary glands in your mouth cannot produce enough saliva. As a result, dehydration occurs, which means that you don’t lack fluid to produce enough saliva. It’s important to remember that your mouth can become dry if you’re feeling anxious.

Saliva helps prevent tooth decay by neutralizing acids that bacteria produce, washing away food particles, and limiting bacterial growth. A dry mouth and decreased saliva can range from being a nuisance to something that significantly impacts the health of your teeth and gums. This condition also affects your enjoyment and appetite for food. Here are 10 causes to determine if you often experience having a dry mouth: 

Cancer treatment 

Cancer treatments such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy can cause dry mouth because they can damage your salivary glands. Radiation therapy can cause dry mouth to the neck, face, and head. When radiation therapy ends for the salivary glands to start producing saliva again, it can take up to 6 months or longer. 

During the first year after radiation treatment, dry mouth often improves. However, the downside is that people can have a long-term dry mouth experience. This is most likely to occur since radiation therapy is directed to the salivary glands. As for chemotherapy, it can also cause dry mouth, but it’s usually temporary. After the chemotherapy, it may only take 2 to 8 weeks.

Nerve damage

Dry mouth may be caused by nerve damage in areas such as the neck and head, affecting saliva production. Diabetic neuropathy is an example of this cause since the nerves are very susceptible around the salivary glands when blood pressure changes. Even surgeries and diseases that can affect the nerves in the neck and head can also cause dry mouth.

People who experience dry mouth due to nerve damage will likely experience secondary symptoms. It’s common to experience shooting pain in the neck or numbness. A burning mouth syndrome was reported by patients who experienced a burning sensation in their anterior palate or tongue. 

Medical conditions

Older adults often experience an increased incidence of dry mouth due to the higher rate of chronic diseases that decreases saliva production. Sjogren’s syndrome, scleroderma, and rheumatoid arthritis are some examples of autoimmune diseases contributing to dry mouth.

Salivary glands would encounter a reduction in saliva capacity due to inflammation that’s caused by autoimmune diseases. Additionally, tuberculosis and other bacterial or fungal infections can cause a granulomatous reaction. This unique type of inflammation irritates and enlarges the salivary glands. 

Alcohol and caffeine

Drinking alcohol and caffeine too often can affect the capacity to produce saliva in the mouth. Alcohol can decrease the amount of “good” bacteria in your mouth, giving access to increase the “bad” bacteria instead. This can ultimately lead to microbiome change in your mouth and a “decreased flow rate” of saliva.

As a result of caffeine intake, dry mouth is usually caused by the presence of tannins. These are categorized as astringent, which may create a puckering and dry feeling in the mouth when consumed. Which is why it’s crucial to track your caffeine intake to avoid the symptoms of dry mouth. 

Smoking and tobacco use

If your mouth feels dry from smoking, this is often called cottonmouth. According to the American Dental Association, the occurrence of cottonmouth presents an issue when the mouth doesn’t receive enough hydration because the salivary glands can’t produce enough saliva. Your mouth can also become dehydrated due to nicotine products, which are known to minimize the saliva flow. 

Smoking is also responsible for blood flow restriction to your gums and mouth. Combining the lack of dry flow and the dry environment will increase your risk of gum disease and tooth decay. 

Stress and anxiety

The Journal of Dental Research, Dental Clinics, and Dental Prospects believe that stress and anxiety can cause dry mouth due to their impact on the flow of your saliva. Anxiety suspends digestion due to its activation of a “fight or flight response”. This includes saliva, in which most of the resources of the body are available to fight or flee. 

Moreover, a person breathes through their mouth as caused by stress and anxiety, which can significantly contribute to experiencing dry mouth. Reduction in the production of saliva can also be experienced by prolonged periods of stress and anxiety since it can cause changes in the body’s hormonal balance. 


Conditions such as vomiting, excessive sweating, fever, blood loss, burns, and diarrhea can lead to dehydration as a cause of dry mouth. The body produces less saliva when the body is dehydrated to conserve fluids. This can be a result of a dry and sticky feeling in the throat and mouth.

Which is why it’s important to stay hydrated by drinking water and plenty of fluids throughout the day to prevent the experience of dry mouth. This is important during hot weather, periods of exercise, and when experiencing symptoms such as diarrhea or vomiting. 


Over 500 medications may be the reason behind the occurrence of dry mouth. Over-the-counter and prescription medications can cause saliva production to decrease. Some medications are analgesics, antipsychotics, decongestants, muscle relaxants, and smoking control medicines.

These medications are used to treat depression, anxiety, and high blood pressure. So if you’re frequently experiencing dry mouth due to medication, it’s important to seek guidance from your doctor or a medical practitioner. 

Recreational drugs

Dry mouth may be caused by the intake of drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana, as it can contribute to a decrease of saliva production. Cannabinoids are contained in marijuana that can affect the salivary glands by less saliva production. This will eventually result in a “cottonmouth” or a dry mouth feeling.

Stimulant drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine can also cause a decrease in saliva production. These drugs can also negatively affect oral health, such as oral infections, gum disease, and tooth decay.

Muscle refaxers

Muscle relaxers refer to medications that are used to reduce muscle stiffness, pain, and spasms. These medications can interfere with saliva production since they often target the nervous system. Muscle relaxers can be the common side effect of dry mouth and other side effects such as confusion, dizziness, and drowsiness. These side effects are often experienced by those with certain medical conditions, such as kidney and liver disease, and older adults.

If you’re frequently experiencing dry mouth due to muscle relaxers, it’s important to consult your doctor to get the proper medication and treatment you need. Your doctor may be able to prescribe a different medication or can adjust the dosage of the medication. 


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the site owner or any brands and companies mentioned here. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion, and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything. This article is purely for reference purposes and does not constitute professional advice and may not be reflective of the best choice for your unique situation. This site strives to provide as much accurate information as possible; however, sometimes products, prices, and other details are subject to change. Therefore, this site does not verify for the accuracy of the information presented in this article. This site does not assume any liability for any sort of damages arising from your use of this site and any third party content and services.