If you’ve ever woken up in the middle of the night feeling as though your mouth is extremely dry, you’re not alone. Dry mouth at night, also known as xerostomia, affects a significant portion of the population and can cause discomfort and potential health issues.
In this post, we’ll explore what causes severe dry mouth at night and how to avoid it.
What Is Dry Mouth?
Dry mouth is a condition characterized by a decreased production of saliva. Saliva plays a crucial role in our oral health, aiding digestion, preventing tooth decay, and keeping our mouths comfortable. When there isn’t enough saliva, you may experience a parched feeling, difficulty swallowing, or a sticky sensation in your mouth.
Additionally, dry mouth increases the risk of tooth decay. It’s because saliva helps rinse away food particles, neutralizes harmful acids produced by bacteria in the mouth, and provides disease-fighting substances throughout your mouth to prevent cavities and other infections.
Symptoms of Dry Mouth
Experiencing dry mouth at night can lead to several symptoms, including:
- Waking up with a dry mouth
- Persistent bad breath
- Difficulty swallowing or speaking
- Sore throat
- A sticky or dry feeling in the mouth
- Frequent thirst, especially at night
- Cracked lips or sores in the mouth
What Causes Extremely Dry Mouth While Sleeping?
There are several reasons you might be waking up with a dry mouth. Some common causes include:
- Medications. Many prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause dry mouth, including drugs used for depression, high blood pressure, anxiety, pain, allergies, colds (antihistamines and decongestants), obesity, spinal injuries (muscle relaxants), acne, epilepsy, hypertension (diuretics), diarrhea, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), nausea, psychotic disorders, urinary incontinence, asthma, and Parkinson’s disease.
- Age. A dry mouth is not a normal part of aging. However, older people are often on medications that can cause dry mouth.
- Cancer treatment. Chemotherapy drugs can change the nature of saliva and the amount produced. This may be temporary, with normal salivary flow returning after treatment is finished. In addition, radiation therapy, especially when directed to the head or neck, can cause a dry mouth. The radiation can damage the salivary glands, leading to a decrease in saliva production. This side effect can begin during treatment and may be long-lasting, even after the completion of radiation therapy. It’s estimated that 90-100% of head and neck cancer patients treated with radiation experience dry mouth.
- Nerve damage. Damage to the head or neck area from an injury or surgery can result in a dry mouth.
- Health conditions. Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, stroke, yeast infection in your mouth (thrush), Alzheimer’s disease, or autoimmune diseases, like Sjogren’s syndrome or HIV/AIDS, can lead to dry mouth.
- Lifestyle factors. Smoking or chewing tobacco, alcohol, and recreational drugs (like methamphetamine) can affect saliva production and aggravate dry mouth. Continuously breathing with your mouth open can also contribute to the problem.
Interestingly, many people wonder, “Is dry mouth a sign of pregnancy?” According to the American Pregnancy Association, this can be possible due to hormonal changes that affect the salivary glands.
Similarly, some may ask, “Can dry mouth be caused by anxiety?”
A dry mouth can be caused by anxiety. This is because anxiety and stress can affect the function of your salivary glands, which produce saliva to keep your mouth moist. When you’re anxious or stressed, your body’s fight-or-flight response can kick in and decrease saliva production, leading to a dry mouth. It’s important to note that if dry mouth persists, seeking medical advice is recommended as it could be a sign of other health conditions.
Management and Treatment for Dry Mouth
Treatment for dry mouth depends on what’s causing it. Generally, treatment focuses on managing underlying conditions causing the dry mouth, increasing saliva flow, and preventing tooth decay.
A dentist or medical doctor might recommend:
1. Managing Underlying Conditions
If a medical condition is causing dry mouth, a medical treatment may help. This can involve adjusting treatment plans or taking additional medications.
For example, if you’re taking a type of medication known as anticholinergics, which are often used for conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or bladder control issues, this could be causing your dry mouth. Anticholinergics work by blocking certain nerve impulses, which can lead to reduced saliva production.
In such a case, your doctor may consider switching you to a different medication that doesn’t affect saliva production as much, or they might lower your dosage. It’s important to note that any changes to your medication should always be done under the supervision of a healthcare professional. Never attempt to alter your medication regimen without consulting your doctor first.
Moreover, if the medication causing dry mouth is necessary for treating a serious condition, your doctor might suggest other ways to alleviate the dry mouth symptoms rather than changing your medication. This could involve using specific oral health products, drinking plenty of water, or possibly prescribing a medication specifically designed to stimulate saliva production.
2. Artificial Saliva Substitutes and Stimulants
There are over-the-counter products designed to substitute or stimulate saliva production. These can come in sprays, lozenges, gels, or rinses.
3. Prescription Treatments
Certain medications, such as pilocarpine (Salagen) or cevimeline (Evoxac), can increase saliva production.
4. Good Oral Care Practices
Regular brushing, flossing, and fluoride mouthwash can help maintain oral health and prevent conditions like tooth decay and gum disease, which can worsen dry mouth.
How to Prevent Dry Mouth While Sleeping?
Preventing dry mouth at night can often be managed with simple lifestyle changes to keep your mouth healthy:
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day, and consider keeping a glass of water next to your bed at night.
- Chew sugarless gum or suck on sugar-free candies to stimulate saliva flow.
- Avoid mouthwashes that contain alcohol, which can dry out your mouth further.
- Stop all tobacco use if you smoke or chew tobacco.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol intake as they can make a dry mouth worse.
- Use a humidifier in your bedroom at night to help keep your mouth moist.
- Avoid salty foods that can exacerbate dry mouth symptoms as they tend to pull moisture out of the body, including the mouth.
Severe nighttime dry mouth is a condition that can be caused by various factors, such as certain medications, lifestyle choices, and health conditions. The discomfort it brings can disrupt sleep and, if left untreated, can lead to more serious oral health issues. Fortunately, there are several ways to manage and prevent this condition. Lifestyle modifications like reducing alcohol and tobacco use, staying hydrated, and using a humidifier can help. Over-the-counter remedies and specific medical treatments are also available.
If you’re experiencing persistent dry mouth, especially at night, contact us to book a consultation. We can provide a proper diagnosis and guide you towards the most appropriate treatment options.