From day to day, saliva does its job of moistening our mouths and doing its part to keep cavities and bad breath in check. And while we take it for granted, its absence is duly (and quickly) noted. For some people, dry mouth — or xerostomia — is all too common upon waking, and the issue can range from a mild nuisance to maximum aggravation. Ahead we’ll take a closer look at some of the common causes of dry mouth and offer some expert advice on how to prevent dry mouth while sleeping.
Causes Of Dry Mouth
Dry mouth while sleeping is a common condition, and it’s typically due to a lack of saliva production in your mouth. While we have some degree of control over the saliva production in our mouths while awake, that’s not so much the case while we’re sleeping. But that’s not the entire story. Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer, DMD, Chief Clinical Officer at SmileDirectClub, adds, “Dry mouth can also be caused by other underlying problems like a stuffy nose or as a side effect from certain medications.”
Some of those underlying problems include:
According to Kathleen Navarro, RDH, DMD, and consultant for Mom Loves Best, “The most common cause of dry mouth is dehydration, which is often overlooked. Saliva is composed of 99 percent water; if you are dehydrated, salivary glands in your mouth won’t produce enough saliva.”
By design, we’re supposed to breathe through our nose while we sleep, but any number of factors can interfere with that process. Ultimately, breathing through your mouth might be the most common culprit of dry mouth while sleeping, and understandably so. The combined effect of an open mouth and drawing in air can dry out the soft tissue in your mouth in seconds.
Whitney DiFoggio, a registered dental hygienist and founder of Teeth Talk Girl, adds, “Oftentimes mouth breathing is habitual, which is correctable, but if it’s not a habit and you have a hard time breathing through your nose, it’s recommended to visit an ENT to determine the cause — it could be due to a deviated septum, sleep apnea, etc.”
Disease Or Infection
Similarly, allergies or seasonal colds that lead to swollen tissue in the lining of our noses can impede airflow, forcing us to breathe through our mouths.
“Certain medications (both over the counter and prescription) can contribute to oral dryness, and those who take multiple medications are at most risk for dry mouth,” says DiFoggio.
Medications commonly associated with dry mouth include:
- Diuretics for high blood pressure
- Anti-anxiety medications
- Pain medicines
Symptoms Of Dry Mouth
Beyond having little to no saliva in your mouth, other symptoms associated with dry mouth include
- Bad breath in the morning that might last through the day
- Feeling thirsty when you wake up
- A dry, scratchy throat in the morning
- Chapped lips
- A thick build-up of saliva in the mouth
- Waking up frequently in need of water
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or speaking
Tips For Preventing Dry Mouth While Sleeping
The best way to curb dry mouth while sleeping is to breathe through your nose; if that’s not an option, we tapped the experts for some best practices. The following tips (or a combination of these tips) may provide some measurable improvement.
Check Your Medications
Remember that both prescribed medication and over-the-counter meds can cause dry mouth. For that reason, Navarro suggests taking inventory of your medicine cabinet as a first step toward curbing dry mouth. “You first need to identify what is causing your dry mouth,” she says. “If a medication causes it, you can discuss with your physician if there are any alternative drugs.”
We’re always hearing about how important water is to our overall health — no surprise, it makes a big difference when it comes to dry mouth, too!
“Water helps lubricate your mouth and gives your body the liquid it needs to turn around and produce more saliva,” says DiFoggio. “Drink more water before you go to bed.” Just be sure not to overdo it — you could find yourselve making frequent trips to the bathroom throughout the night if you consume too much liquid before bed.
Skip The Nightcap…
Alcohol (and mouthwashes with alcohol) can zap your hydration and leave you with a cotton mouth when you wake. If dry mouth is a common (and uncomfortable) occurrence for you, you might want to consider skipping the wine with dinner or the routine nightcap.
And The Coffee
Sleep experts often warn against indulging in coffee too close to bedtime, as it’s notorious for meddling with your zzz’s — now you can add dry mouth to its list of transgressions. If you like a warm drink before bed, try some chamomile tea, which is scientifically proven to improve the symptoms of dry mouth.
Brush Before Bed
“Dry mouth can be triggered by many of the foods you eat during the day, such as salty or acidic foods, so maintaining a good oral care regimen is key in preventing it,” says Sulitzer. Brushing before bed can not only help keep cavities at bay, but also help keep dry mouth in check.
Add Mouthwash To Your Routine
Beyond brushing, DiFoggio suggests using a dry mouth mouthwash or mouth rinse, which are specifically formulated to help lubricate your mouth and provide long-lasting results. And remember to avoid the mouthwashes that contain alcohol!
Chew On It
DiFoggio suggests “chewing on sugar-free gum, mints, or candy (anything that helps promote saliva flow).” She warns against the sugary versions of these treats, as they can be counterproductive to keeping dry mouth in check (not to mention your dental hygiene).
Use A Humidifier
External factors like dry air can exacerbate dry mouth symptoms. Navarro says, “Placing a humidifier next to your bed can also help raise moisture levels in the air.” This can be particularly helpful for those who live in naturally dry climates, whether it’s year-round or seasonal.
Try A Different Position
“Changing your sleep position can also help,” says Navarro. “Sleeping flat on your back may cause you to open your mouth and breathe through your mouth. So for some patients, it will help to add more pillows behind your head or sleep on your side.”
Cut Back On Salt
Salt pulls moisture out of almost anything it touches — that includes you and your mouth. So, if you’re looking to minimize the effects of dry mouth, think about cutting back on your salt intake.
Nix The Cigarettes
Smoking is notorious for causing dry mouth or cottonmouth. If you’re waking up with dry mouth more often than you’d like, you might consider breaking the habit.
Use Artificial Saliva
As its name implies, artificial saliva can help you produce more saliva. Typically, these products are not meant to be swallowed, only swished, and they’re often available over the counter as a rinse or spray.
A Note About Mouth Taping
Mouth taping has been a popular trend in recent years. Across many social media platforms, folks have been promoting the practice to encourage nose breathing, curb mouth breathing, and keep dry mouth and snoring in check. But time and again, sleep experts and doctors warn that it’s a dangerous practice.
For a better alternative to mouth taping, you might consider nasal strips. Worn across the bridge of your nose, these strips help promote nose breathing (and minimize mouth breathing that leads to dry mouth).
The Last Word From Sleepopolis
Dry mouth while sleeping is common for many people. While it’s often caused by mouth breathing and dehydration, dry mouth can also be caused by certain medications and illnesses. If dry mouth is an issue for you, you might try a few lifestyle and dietary changes, like cutting back on alcohol and caffeine, doubling down on your water intake, and brushing before bed. If your symptoms persist, you may want to speak to your doctor about changing your medications or to rule out any larger health issues.
Sharon Brandwein is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and a freelance writer. She specializes in health and beauty, parenting, and of course, all things sleep. Sharon’s work has also appeared on ABC News, USAToday, and Forbes. When she’s not busy writing, you might find her somewhere curating a wardrobe for her puppy.