Everyone's woken up with the occasional cottonmouth. But if your mouth feels as desiccated as the Sahara Desert every morning, you might be dealing with dry mouth (also known as xerostomia).
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Dry mouth occurs when you don't produce enough saliva, according to the Cleveland Clinic. But lack of saliva is usually a symptom or side effect of another health issue.
Here, periodontist and microbiologist Frank A. Scannapieco, DMD, PhD, chair of oral biology at the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine, helps you zero in on what's causing your morning dry mouth and what to do about it.
Often, dry mouth is an indication that your entire body needs more fluids.
When you're dehydrated, you don't have enough fluids to produce saliva, which is made up almost entirely of water, Dr. Scannapieco says. (Saliva is 99 percent H2O.)
If you're not drinking enough throughout the day, you might find yourself dealing with a dehydrated, dry mouth in the morning.
You Breathe Through Your Mouth
Do you often awaken with your mouth wide open? This could be driving your desert mouth.
"If you sleep with your mouth open, the oral tissues will dry out, especially those tissues closest to your lips," Dr. Scannapieco says.
Mouth breathing is especially common when you're congested. A stuffy nose makes it difficult to breathe through your nostrils, so you compensate by mouth breathing.
You Might Have Sleep Apnea
If you're a chronic snorer who wakes with a dry mouth daily, you might be living with sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterized by abnormal breathing during sleep.
People with this condition experience disrupted breathing, gasping for breath and loud snoring, according to the Mayo Clinic. These problems often result in mouth breathing, which, as we know, can bring upon dry mouth.
Other symptoms include insomnia, morning headaches, daytime sleepiness, limited attention span and irritability, per the Mayo Clinic.
You're Taking Certain Medications
Some medications may meddle with your mouth and decrease saliva flow.
"Many drugs can act on the central nervous system or on the salivary gland secretory cells to reduce salivary secretion," Dr Scannapieco says. Medicines used to treat depression and overactive bladder, among other conditions, may result in dry mouth, he says.
Some antihistamines, decongestants, muscle relaxants and pain medications can also cause dry mouth as a side effect, per the Mayo Clinic.
Because we're more likely to take more medications as we get older, there's a greater risk for dry mouth as you age. In fact, 1 in 5 older adults experience xerostomia, per the Cleveland Clinic.
You Have Another Underlying Health Condition
In addition to sleep apnea, there are some more serious health issues that could be to blame.
For instance, certain autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren's syndrome, show effects on the salivary glands, Dr. Scannapieco says.
Diabetes, stroke, oral yeast infection (or thrush) and Alzheimer's disease are also associated with dry mouth, per the Mayo Clinic.
You Drink Alcohol or Caffeine Late in the Day
Late-day coffee and cocktails could be the culprit of your parched palate. That's because caffeine and alcohol can be slightly dehydrating, which can lead to dry mouth, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.
How to Prevent Dry Mouth While Sleeping
While you may not be able to curb all the causes of dry mouth, you can manage (and even prevent) some. Here's how:
1. Talk to Your Doctor
The first line of defense against dry mouth is identifying any underlying issue. And if your medication is the cause, your doc may be able to adjust your dosage or prescribe another drug that doesn't cause dry mouth, per the Mayo Clinic.
2. Drink Plenty of Water
Eight glasses of H2O a day is a reasonable benchmark to stay hydrated, although drinking when you're thirsty and checking for light yellow urine should do the trick, too. Keep a water bottle nearby — like on your nightstand — for easy access, Dr. Scannapieco says.
3. Chew on Ice Cubes
This is another way to get your fill of water. Plus, the chewing motion helps stimulate saliva flow, per the Cleveland Clinic.
4. Use a Humidifier
Running a humidifier in your bedroom adds moisture to the air and can help prevent dry mouth at night (especially if you're a mouth breather), per the Cleveland Clinic.
5. Avoid Alcohol and Caffeinated Drinks
These beverages can be dehydrating and may exacerbate dry mouth.
6. Try Products that Moisturize Your Mouth
Artificial saliva can lubricate your mouth and improve comfort, Dr. Scannapieco says. These sprays, gels, rinses and tablets are available from pharmacies and online retailers like Amazon.
7. Use a Medication that Stimulates Saliva
"If there are functional salivary glands, salivary stimulant drugs such as pilocarpine may help," Dr. Scannapieco says. Your doctor will discuss any prescription options that might be a good fit for you.
8. Make Oral Hygiene a Priority
People with dry mouth are more prone to cavities and tooth decay, so a proper oral hygiene routine is essential, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Floss (or use interdental brushes) regularly and brush twice daily (once before bed) with a fluoridated toothpaste, Dr. Scannapieco says.
In addition, swish with a fluoride-based mouth rinse, he says. In fact, some mouth rinses (like those with xylitol) are made especially for folks with dry mouth, so ask your dentist for more information.
Avoid mouthwashes containing alcohol or peroxide, which may worsen your dry mouth.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.