The medical term form dry mouth is "xerostomia." Xerostomia can be an uncomfortable condition that can affect a person's sense of taste and may increase their risk of developing dental cavities.
Some people may experience dry mouth at night. This may be due to natural variations in how much saliva the body makes, but certain medical conditions can also cause it.
This article outlines the various causes of dry mouth at night and their associated treatment options. It also provides a list of home remedies for dry mouth.
Causes of dry mouth at night
The following are some potential causes of dry mouth at night.
Natural variation in saliva production
According to an article in the journal Compendium, a person's salivary glands typically produce less saliva at night. As a result, some people may notice that their mouths feel drier in the evening.
A doctor may prescribe special mouthwashes that can moisten the mouth and reduce sensations of dry mouth before bedtime.
People should also consider keeping a glass of water by their bedside. If a person wakes up with a dry mouth, drinking some water will help moisten the mouth.
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, an estimated 20% of older adults struggle with dry mouth. In older adults, this condition usually occurs as a result of dehydration or as a side effect of certain medications.
Older adults who wear dentures may find that they no longer fit properly as a result of dry mouth. Without adequate saliva, dentures can rub against the gums, causing sore spots.
A person who experiences dry mouth should visit their doctor or dentist who will help determine the cause of the condition.
If dry mouth is due to the medications a person is taking, the doctor or dentist may recommend changing the dosage or switching to a different drug.
In some cases, people may receive medications to improve the function of the salivary glands.
Medication side effects
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services state that more than 400 medicines can reduce the body's ability to produce saliva. People who take their medications at nighttime may notice their dry mouth symptoms worsening at night.
Some medications that can cause dry mouth include:
- blood pressure lowering drugs, or antihypertensives
- some medications used to control Parkinson's disease
- radiation therapy
A person should see their doctor if they suspect that their medication is causing dry mouth. However, people should not stop taking their medications unless they have their doctor's approval to do so.
A doctor may suggest lowering the dosage of the medication or taking the drug earlier in the day. Sometimes, a doctor may suggest changing to a different medicine that does not cause dry mouth.
The doctor may also recommend the following:
- taking medications with plenty of water
- sipping on water at nighttime
- chewing on gum to encourage saliva production
- using a humidifier to release moisture into the air and alleviate sensations of dry mouth
Some people wake up during the night and notice that they have an extremely dry mouth. This can be a sign that they have been breathing through their mouth while asleep. Some possible causes of this behavior include:
- a narrowing or blockage of the nasal passages
- an acute illness, such as an upper respiratory infection or a cold
- obstructive sleep apnea, which may result in repeated gasping, snorting, or snoring episodes
The treatment for nighttime mouth breathing depends on the underlying cause. We outline the potential causes and their associated treatment options below.
Antibiotics can help to treat a bacterial infection, while decongestants may help to alleviate any associated sinus congestion.
Antihistamines can help to treat allergies, while corticosteroids may also help to relieve any associated nasal inflammation and stuffiness.
People who experience sleep apnea may require a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device. The CPAP is a mask that fits over the mouth or nose and blows air into the airways to keep them open during sleep.
Although the treatment is effective against sleep apnea, the constant stream of air can actually worsen symptoms of a dry mouth. A person should talk to their doctor or dentist who can adjust the mask or recommend a machine that does not dry out the mouth.
Narrowed nasal passages
In some cases, people who have severe difficulty breathing through their nose may require surgery to widen the nasal passages. This will help to promote airflow through the nasal passages, preventing the need for mouth breathing.
Sjogren's syndrome is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks its tear glands and saliva-producing glands. As a result, a person who has Sjogren's syndrome will typically experience sensations of dry mouth. This symptom may worsen at nighttime when the salivary glands naturally produce less saliva.
People with Sjogren's syndrome may experience the following symptoms as a result of dry mouth:
- difficulty swallowing food without a drink
- pain in the mouth
- speech problems at night
They may also experience dryness in their eyes, nose, throat, or vagina.
Doctors may prescribe medications to reduce dry mouth and encourage saliva production. Examples include pilocarpine (Salagen) and cevimeline (Evoxac).
A doctor will also encourage people with Sjogren's syndrome to drink water frequently, and chew sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva production.
Home remedies for dry mouth
Regardless of the underlying cause of dry mouth at night, the following home remedies can help reduce sensations of dry mouth:
- avoiding caffeinated drinks at night
- avoiding smoking and use of tobacco products, which can dry out the mouth
- chewing sugarless gu or sucking sugar-free lozenges or hard candies to stimulate saliva production.
- sipping cool water frequently throughout the day
To reduce the risk of dental cavities associated with dry mouth, people should maintain good oral hygiene. This involves flossing daily and brushing the teeth twice a day using fluoride toothpaste.
People who have a very dry mouth may require more frequent dental check-ups. This is to ensure that they have not developed cavities.
When to see a doctor
Dry mouth at night is rarely a medical emergency. However, in some cases, it may indicate a need for medical treatment.
People should see a doctor if they experience any of the following:
- dry mouth that is affecting their sleep at night
- dry mouth that causes pain and discomfort
- increased incidence of dental cavities without any change in dental routine
Dry mouth at night can occur as a result of a normal nighttime decrease in saliva production.
However, dry mouth at night can also be a symptom of an acute illness or an underlying medical condition.
People should see a doctor if their dry mouth causes pain or discomfort or affects their sleep and overall sense of well-being. A doctor will work to diagnose the cause of dry mouth and will recommend appropriate treatments.