The Science Behind Dry Mouth: What Causes It and How to Prevent It


Posted on May 16, 2023 by Aiden Beauchamp

The Science Behind Dry Mouth: What Causes It and How to Prevent It

Understanding the Science of Dry Mouth

Before diving into the specifics of dry mouth, it's essential to understand the science behind it. Our mouths produce saliva, a fluid that plays a critical role in our oral health. Saliva helps to keep our mouths clean, moist, and comfortable. It also aids in digestion, lubricates our food, and prevents bad breath. When our salivary glands don't produce enough saliva, we experience dry mouth, also known as xerostomia.

Dry mouth can be caused by various factors, including medications, health conditions, and lifestyle choices. In this article, we'll explore the science behind dry mouth, its causes, and ways to prevent and alleviate it. So, let's get started!

The Role of Saliva in Our Oral Health

Saliva is a vital component of our oral health, and understanding its role can help us appreciate the importance of preventing dry mouth. Our salivary glands produce saliva, which is composed of 99% water and 1% other substances like enzymes, electrolytes, and proteins. Saliva serves several essential functions in our mouths:

1. Cleansing: Saliva washes away food particles and bacteria, keeping our mouths clean and reducing the risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
2. Lubrication: It moistens our oral tissues, making it easier to speak, swallow, and chew food.
3. Digestion: Saliva contains enzymes that break down food, kickstarting the digestive process.
4. Neutralization: It neutralizes acids produced by bacteria in our mouths, protecting our teeth from erosion and decay.
5. Remineralization: Saliva contains minerals that help to rebuild the enamel of our teeth, preventing cavities.

What Causes Dry Mouth?

Now that we understand the importance of saliva in our oral health, let's explore the factors that can lead to dry mouth. There are several reasons why our salivary glands may not produce enough saliva, including:

1. Medications: Certain medications, such as antihistamines, antidepressants, and high blood pressure medications, can decrease saliva production.
2. Health conditions: Some medical conditions, like Sjögren's syndrome, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS, can cause dry mouth as a symptom.
3. Aging: As we age, our salivary glands tend to produce less saliva, making dry mouth more common in older adults.
4. Cancer treatments: Radiation and chemotherapy can damage our salivary glands, leading to dry mouth.
5. Dehydration: When we're dehydrated, our body produces less saliva to conserve water.
6. Smoking and alcohol consumption: Both smoking and alcohol can cause dry mouth, as they can reduce saliva production and cause dehydration.

How to Prevent Dry Mouth

Preventing dry mouth is crucial to maintaining our oral health, so let's explore some ways to keep our mouths moist and comfortable:

1. Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day to promote saliva production and prevent dehydration.
2. Chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free candy: Chewing gum or sucking on candy can stimulate saliva production, keeping our mouths moist.
3. Use a humidifier: Adding moisture to the air with a humidifier can help alleviate dry mouth, especially at night.
4. Limit caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco: Reducing our consumption of these substances can help to prevent dry mouth.
5. Maintain good oral hygiene: Brushing and flossing regularly, as well as using a fluoride toothpaste, can help to keep our mouths clean and reduce the risk of oral health problems caused by dry mouth.
6. Talk to your doctor or dentist: If you're experiencing dry mouth as a side effect of medications or a health condition, speak with your healthcare provider about possible solutions.

How to Alleviate Dry Mouth Symptoms

If you're already experiencing dry mouth, there are some steps you can take to alleviate the symptoms and improve your oral health:

1. Use over-the-counter saliva substitutes: Artificial saliva products can help to moisten our mouths and provide temporary relief from dry mouth symptoms.
2. Sip water frequently: Keeping a water bottle handy and sipping it throughout the day can help to keep your mouth moist and alleviate dry mouth symptoms.
3. Avoid mouthwashes containing alcohol: Alcohol can dry out our mouths, so opt for alcohol-free mouthwashes instead.
4. Use a lip balm: Applying a lip balm can help to keep your lips moisturized and prevent cracking and discomfort caused by dry mouth.
5. Visit your dentist regularly: Regular dental checkups can help to identify and address any oral health issues related to dry mouth.


Dry mouth can be a frustrating and uncomfortable condition, but understanding the science behind it and knowing how to prevent and alleviate it can greatly improve our oral health and overall well-being. By staying hydrated, maintaining good oral hygiene, and working with our healthcare providers, we can effectively manage dry mouth and enjoy a comfortable, healthy mouth.

Write a comment