Dry mouth means you don't have enough saliva, or spit, to keep your mouth moist. Everyone has a dry mouth once in a while, especially if you're nervous, upset or under stress. But if you have a dry mouth all or most of the time, it can be uncomfortable and can lead to more serious health problems or indicate that a more serious medical condition may exist. That's because saliva does more than just keep the mouth wet —it helps digest food, protects teeth from decay, prevents infection by controlling bacteria in the mouth, and makes it possible for you to chew and swallow. There are several reasons that the glands that produce saliva, called the salivary glands, might not function properly. These include:
- Side effects of some medications — over 400 medicines can cause dry mouth, including antihistamines, decongestants, pain killers, diuretics and medicines for high blood pressure and depression.
- Disease — diseases that affect the salivary glands, such as diabetes, Hodgkin's, Parkinson's disease, HIV/AIDS and Sjogren's syndrome, may lead to dry mouth.
- Radiation therapy — the salivary glands can be damaged if your head or neck are exposed to radiation during cancer treatment. The loss of saliva can be total or partial, permanent or temporary.
- Chemotherapy — drugs used to treat cancer can make saliva thicker, or "ropey," causing your mouth to feel dry.
- Menopause — changing hormone levels affect the salivary glands, often leaving menopausal and post-menopausal women with a persistent feeling of dry mouth.
- Smoking — many pipe, cigar and heavy cigarette smokers experience dry mouth.