Dry mouth is a condition where the salivary glands don’t produce enough saliva to keep the mouth moist. The causes of dry mouth range from underlying diseases like Sjogren’s syndrome to sleeping with an open mouth, radiation therapy, and medications. Oral dryness can be very uncomfortable to experience and it can even cause health problems. Let’s take a more in-depth look at what dry mouth is, some medications that cause it, and how to treat it.
Can certain medications cause dry mouth?
There are numerous medications on the market that have dry mouth (xerostomia) as a side effect, and some medications are more likely than others to cause the condition. Medications that cause dry mouth affect the sympathetic nervous system and thicken and slow down the production of saliva. According to The American Academy of Oral Medicine, over 1,110 medications have the potential to cause dry mouth.
The American Dental Association says that nearly half of all adults in the U.S. take at least one prescription medication per day, many of which can produce dry mouth. It’s estimated that at least 31 million Americans have dry mouth and that 11 million of these cases are due to medications. Dry mouth may seem like it’s just an uncomfortable condition, but it can actually lead to more serious complications like sore throat, bad breath, problems wearing dentures, tooth decay, oral infections, gum disease, thrush, and mouth sores.
(Medications that affect the sympathetic nervous system and saliva production more than medications that only mildly affect the sympathetic nervous system are more likely to cause dry mouth). Let’s take a look at some of those medications.
12 medications that cause dry mouth
The following types of medications are associated with higher incidences of dry mouth.
1. Alzheimer’s disease medications
Dry mouth tends to be more prevalent among older adults, and older adults who take Alzheimer’s disease medications are even more prone to experiencing dry mouth. Some of the most common Alzheimer’s disease medications that can cause dry mouth are:
These medications can treat numerous conditions such as urinary incontinence or an overactive bladder. They inhibit nerve impulses for involuntary muscle movements and reduce salivary flow. Here are some of the most commonly prescribed anticholinergics:
Antidepressants can help treat anxiety and depression. They can exert an inhibiting influence on saliva production and often cause dry mouth. These are some of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants:
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
Dry mouth that comes from taking an antihistamine may be because of an antimuscarinic effect. Here are some common over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines:
Antipsychotics are used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Here are some antipsychotics that can cause dry mouth:
Benzodiazepines help treat anxiety, seizures, and insomnia and can also cause mild dry mouth. Here are some common benzodiazepines on the market:
7. Blood pressure & heart medications
Medications prescribed to treat high blood pressure (hypertension) and heart medications can cause dry mouth. Here are some of those medications:
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
- Calcium channel blockers
- Heart rhythm medications
Decongestants help control how much mucus the body produces and can also affect how much saliva it produces. Popular OTC decongestants are:
Diuretics reduce the amount of water and salt in the body by increasing urination and are known to cause dry mouth. Here are some commonly prescribed diuretics:
Inhalers are used by people with asthma or lung diseases to help open up their airways, but they can repress salivary glands and cause dry mouth. Popular bronchodilators include:
Analgesics are painkillers that include OTC pain meds like ibuprofen and stronger meds like opioids, which treat chronic pain. Pain medications affect the autonomic nervous system, which in turn affects saliva flow. Here are some of the most common pain medications on the market:
Stimulants are mainly used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy, and have hyposalivation as a known side effect. These are three of the most commonly prescribed stimulants:
Dry mouth treatment
It’s been estimated that about 21% of people who take medication have wanted to stop because of their experiences with dry mouth. The good news is that dry mouth can often be treated at home with a little bit of effort.
Here are some of the best treatments for dry mouth:
- Chewing sugar-free gum: Chewing on sugar-free gum or candies can help stimulate the production of saliva and keep the mouth more moisturized.
- Using a humidifier: Running a humidifier in your room at night or in your home during the day will add moisture to the air and make your mouth less dry, especially if you breathe through your mouth at night.
- Staying hydrated: Drinking plenty of water will not only keep you from getting dehydrated but will also help minimize how dry your mouth gets throughout the day.
- Limiting caffeine intake: Consuming a lot of caffeine can dehydrate you and make your dry mouth worse. Consider limiting your caffeine intake to help with your dry mouth.
- Stopping all tobacco use: Smoking cigarettes or using other products that contain tobacco can cause dry mouth because they slow down the production of saliva. Quitting smoking may help improve your dry mouth.
- Using a mouthwash: Rinsing your mouth in the morning and/or at night after brushing your teeth with an alcohol-free mouthwash can help improve overall oral health and reduce dry mouth. Mouthwashes that contain xylitol, such as Biotene, may be especially helpful for improving dry mouth because xylitol has been shown to promote saliva production.
- Using saliva substitutes: Over-the-counter saliva substitutes like Mouth Kote and Biotene OralBalance Moisturizing Gel can help treat dry mouth and are available at most pharmacies.
- Trying an herbal remedy: Some herbs like marshmallow root, ginger, and nopal cactus may help stimulate saliva production. It’s important to note that the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements in the same way that it does medications, so it’s always a good idea to talk with your doctor before taking any herbs.
- Trying a dry mouth medication: Sometimes doctors will prescribe patients with severe dry mouth medications like Salagen (pilocarpine) or Evoxac (cevimeline) to help stimulate saliva production. When considering taking a medication specifically for dry mouth, it’s important to think about whether or not it will interact with any medications that you’re already taking. If you’re taking a medication that’s causing your dry mouth, there’s a probability that it will negatively interact with a medication to treat your dry mouth. Your doctor is the best person to ask about whether or not it’s okay to take medication for dry mouth in addition to other drugs you might be taking.
Even though you might find relief from your dry mouth by using one or several of the treatment methods mentioned above, it’s still a good idea to schedule regular trips to the doctor and dentist to keep an eye on how your dry mouth is doing.
“It’s important to keep your appointments every six months with your dentist if you are experiencing dry mouth because it can cause tooth decay,” says Umang Patel, DDS, a dentist who practices at Romeoville Dental Center and Palos Heights Family Dental in the Chicago area. “Saliva washes away bacteria from the teeth, and in dry mouths, the bacteria will sit on the teeth and cause cavities. If you have tried several methods to avoid experiencing dry mouth because of your medication, it’s worth scheduling an appointment with your doctor to see if you can switch to medications that don’t have such severe side effects.”
If you’ve tried multiple treatment options and have even tried switching medications and your dry mouth still isn’t going away, it may be time to visit your doctor again and get some additional medical advice. Dry mouth that doesn’t go away, even after a change or stop in medication, may be a sign of an underlying health condition.