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Does my medication cause dry mouth? And what can I do about my dry mouth?

With hundreds of over the counter and prescription medications listing dry mouth as a side effect, it's no wonder medication is the leading cause for dry mouth. So what do I do?

Medications, including a bunch of over-the-counter drugs, list dry mouth as a side effect. These medications block the salivary glands in the mouth from making enough saliva. This isn't just uncomfortable, it’s bad for your oral health. Does your medication cause dry mouth? Read on to see what you can do to eliminate dry mouth and take control of your mouth again.

What types of medication cause dry mouth?

According to a report from the Surgeon General, more than 400 prescriptions and over the counter drugs can cause dry mouth. Further, taking multiple medications greatly increases your risk of dry mouth.

The most common medications to cause dry mouth are:

  • Antidepressants and anti-anxiety 
  • Prescription painkillers
  • Blood pressure and heart medications
  • Sleeping aids
  • Smoking cessation 
  • Heartburn 
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Diarrhea, anti-nausea, and other IBS medications
  • Antihistamines have drying effects on the whole body, and lead to dry mouth
  • Bronchodilators for asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD

In addition to medications and drugs, certain medical treatments (like radiation cancer treatments) cause dry mouth too. 

I think I have dry mouth. What else can it do to my oral health?

Dry mouth is incredibly uncomfortable because it's hard to talk, chew, and swallow food. Ever try to eat a bunch of saltines only to have your mouth dry out? Well, it's like that but for every single food you try to eat. It can even get so bad that your lips stick to your teeth which can be quite uncomfortable! Oftentimes, people with dry mouths aren't getting the right nutrition because they find it so hard and uncomfortable to eat properly. As Sarah Clark, RDH and a member of the Adjunct Clinical Faculty at Coastal Carolina Community College puts it: “Dry mouth isn’t only uncomfortable, it’s often responsible for the rapid increase of dental health concerns, such as decay issues.”

Left untreated, dry mouth causes a host of oral health issues. Bacteria thrive in your dry mouth because you don't have enough saliva to wash them away. The combination of discomfort and thriving bacteria lead to:

  • Sores, split skin, and cracked lips
  • Increased plaque
  • Tooth decay
  • Gingivitis and gum disease
  • Thrush (yeast infection in the mouth)
  • Mouth sores
  • Vitamin deficiencies 
  • Poor nutrition

When bacteria thrive due to dry mouth, their numbers increase greatly. For many bacteria in our oral microbiome, a byproduct of their functioning is the creation of acids. Think of it this way: More bacteria equals more acid equals a drop in salivary pH level. Once we see a salivary pH of 4.5 - 5.5, demineralization of tooth structure occurs, meaning risk for dental decay and enamel erosion. Sarah continues, “When dry mouth occurs, bacteria numbers skyrocket, which create unwanted inflammatory responses and often produce negative byproducts such as acids in the saliva.” 

However, this also means that if we learn to manage our dry mouth we gain comfort, decreased bacterial numbers, and improved salivary pH. It won’t do all of the work for us, but managing dry mouth alone is a crucial step in the right direction. This is why the first thing we send you in your test kit is the saliva test!

We also must understand our saliva’s buffering capacity. Buffering capacity is the saliva’s ability to wash away these harmful acid byproducts from the teeth and restore a stable pH. As you can imagine, no saliva means no buffering capacity. Another crucial reason to seek dry mouth relief and treatment. 

What should I do if my medication is causing dry mouth?

First, discuss your dry mouth with a dentist or hygienist so they can evaluate how your dry mouth might be affecting you. While medication is the most common cause of dry mouth, it is not the only cause. The best  “first step” is to determine the most likely causes of your dry mouth and work towards managing the true source of it. 

If it is medication related, your dental professional can also support you in chatting with your physician about adjusting medications to address dry mouth if possible. Usually, medication cannot be discontinued for the relief of dry mouth because it would be too great of an overall health risk. When this happens, we must explore alternative options of dry mouth management and relief.

A second area of focus to help alleviate dry mouth is to make sure you're staying hydrated. That includes drinking water and minimizing dehydrating activities like: 

  • Minimize caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, and soda.
  • Limit drinking alcohol.
  • Reduce smoking, vaping, and tobacco usage.
  • Lower your sugar intake.

Adequate water intake helps the salivary glands produce more saliva, working to alleviate dry-mouth at the source. 

Most important you'll want to use the right products and techniques at home to address your dry  mouth. Many people naturally gravitate towards sucking on sugared hard candies to provide a longer-lasting presence of moisture throughout the day. However, the sugars & acids in these candies, combined with the prolonged exposure to them, skyrocket your potential for tooth decay and with a dry mouth it can be like starting a wildfire. 

Instead, work to stimulate your salivary glands by using products specifically made for this purpose, such as Spry gum or mints which contain Xylitol. Xylitol is helpful in stimulating saliva production, it balances the salivary pH, and also helps to minimize bacteria buildup associated with tooth decay and dry mouth - it’s a win-win! Not all products are mouth-friendly (especially not dry-mouth-friendly) so it is important to choose a product that provides you comfort and also works to keep your mouth safe from potential damage from using an unfitting product.

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