Understanding the Medications That Cause Dry Mouth

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth, or xerostomia, is a common side effect of various medications. It can lead to discomfort, difficulty in swallowing and speaking, and an increased risk of dental problems. This comprehensive guide will explore the medications that can cause dry mouth, how they do so, and what you can do to manage this condition.

What is Dry Mouth?

Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is a condition where the salivary glands in your mouth do not produce enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. It is more than just an annoying symptom; dry mouth can have significant effects on your oral and overall health.

Definition of Dry Mouth

A dry mouth occurs when the salivary glands in your mouth don’t produce enough saliva. Saliva is essential for moistening the mouth, aiding digestion, protecting teeth from decay, and preventing infection by controlling bacteria and fungi in the mouth.

Symptoms of Dry Mouth

Common symptoms of dry mouth include:

  • A sticky, dry feeling in the mouth
  • Frequent thirst
  • Sores in the mouth or split skin at the corners of the mouth
  • Cracked lips
  • A dry feeling in the throat
  • A burning or tingling sensation in the mouth and especially on the tongue
  • A dry, red, raw tongue
  • Problems speaking or trouble tasting, chewing, and swallowing
  • Hoarseness, dry nasal passages, sore throat
  • Bad breath

Medications That Cause Dry Mouth

Dry mouth, or xerostomia, is a common side effect of numerous medications. This condition can significantly impact quality of life, leading to discomfort and various oral health issues. Understanding which medications can cause dry mouth and how they affect the body is crucial for managing this condition effectively. If you’re experiencing dry mouth, it’s important to identify the medication that can cause dry mouth you’re taking and consult with your healthcare provider.


Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs)

TCAs, such as amitriptyline and nortriptyline, are known to cause dry mouth. They work by blocking the action of certain neurotransmitters, which can also affect the salivary glands.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs, including fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft), are commonly prescribed for depression and anxiety. These medications can lead to decreased saliva production as a side effect.


First-Generation Antihistamines

First-generation antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and chlorpheniramine are often used to treat allergies. They can cause dry mouth by inhibiting the action of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates saliva production.

Second-Generation Antihistamines

Second-generation antihistamines, such as loratadine (Claritin) and cetirizine (Zyrtec), are less likely to cause dry mouth but can still have this side effect, especially at higher doses.

Antihypertensive Medications


Diuretics, commonly known as water pills, such as hydrochlorothiazide and furosemide, are used to treat high blood pressure and edema. They can lead to dry mouth by causing fluid loss and decreasing saliva production.


Beta-blockers like atenolol and metoprolol are used to manage high blood pressure and heart conditions. They may cause dry mouth by affecting the autonomic nervous system, which regulates saliva production.


First-Generation Antipsychotics

Medications like haloperidol and chlorpromazine, used to treat schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, can cause dry mouth as a side effect due to their anticholinergic properties.

Second-Generation Antipsychotics

Second-generation antipsychotics, such as risperidone and olanzapine, also have anticholinergic effects, though to a lesser extent than first-generation antipsychotics.

Pain Medications


Opioids, including morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone, are powerful pain relievers. They can cause dry mouth by affecting the central nervous system and reducing saliva production.

Muscle Relaxants


Medications such as cyclobenzaprine and baclofen are used to treat muscle spasms. They have anticholinergic effects, which can lead to dry mouth.


Medications for Nausea and Vomiting

Drugs like ondansetron and metoclopramide, used to treat nausea and vomiting, can cause dry mouth by interfering with the neurotransmitters that regulate saliva production.


Common Decongestants

Pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine, found in many over-the-counter cold and allergy medications, can cause dry mouth by constricting blood vessels and reducing saliva flow.

Parkinson’s Disease Medications

Dopaminergic Medications

Medications such as levodopa and carbidopa, used to treat Parkinson’s disease, can cause dry mouth as a side effect. These drugs affect the autonomic nervous system, which controls saliva production.

How Medications Cause Dry Mouth

Anticholinergic Effects

Many medications that cause dry mouth do so because they have anticholinergic effects. This means they block the action of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates the salivary glands. Without adequate stimulation, saliva production decreases, leading to dry mouth.

Fluid Loss

Some medications, such as diuretics, cause the body to lose fluids. This reduction in body fluids can lead to decreased saliva production and, consequently, dry mouth.

Direct Effects on Salivary Glands

Certain medications may directly affect the salivary glands, impairing their ability to produce saliva. This can occur through toxic effects or by disrupting the normal function of the glands.

Managing Dry Mouth


Drinking Water

Staying well-hydrated is crucial for managing dry mouth. Sipping water throughout the day can help keep the mouth moist.


Using a humidifier, especially at night, can add moisture to the air and help relieve dry mouth symptoms.

Oral Care Products

Saliva Substitutes

Saliva substitutes and oral rinses designed for dry mouth can help maintain moisture in the mouth. These products often contain ingredients that mimic natural saliva.

Sugar-Free Gum and Lozenges

Chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free lozenges can stimulate saliva production and help alleviate dry mouth symptoms.

Medication Adjustments

Consulting Your Doctor

If you suspect your medication is causing dry mouth, consult your healthcare provider. They may adjust your dosage or switch you to a different medication that doesn’t have dry mouth as a side effect.

Lifestyle Changes

Avoiding Caffeine and Alcohol

Caffeine and alcohol can contribute to dry mouth. Reducing or eliminating these substances from your diet can help manage symptoms.

Quitting Smoking

Smoking can worsen dry mouth. Quitting smoking can improve your overall oral health and help alleviate dry mouth symptoms.

Potential Complications of Untreated Dry Mouth

Dental Issues

Tooth Decay

Saliva plays a crucial role in protecting teeth from decay by neutralizing acids produced by bacteria. Without adequate saliva, the risk of tooth decay increases.

Gum Disease

Dry mouth can lead to gum disease as saliva helps in keeping the gums healthy by washing away food particles and bacteria.

Difficulty Eating and Speaking

Swallowing Problems

Dry mouth can make swallowing difficult, leading to nutritional deficiencies and weight loss.

Speech Difficulties

A lack of saliva can make it hard to speak clearly, impacting communication and quality of life.


Oral Thrush

A dry mouth environment can encourage the growth of fungi, leading to oral thrush, a yeast infection in the mouth.

Bad Breath

Bacteria thrive in a dry mouth, often causing bad breath, which can be socially and personally distressing.


Dry mouth is a common side effect of many medications. Understanding which medications cause dry mouth and how they do so is essential for managing this condition. By staying hydrated, using oral care products, and making lifestyle changes, you can alleviate the symptoms of dry mouth. Always consult with your healthcare provider if you experience persistent dry mouth to explore alternative treatments or adjustments to your current medication regimen. Taking these steps can help you maintain good oral health and overall well-being.

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