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How Big of a Problem Is Dry Mouth?

For a lot of people, dry mouth happens every now and then. It can happen when people forget to drink a glass of water, have a bit too much wine, or sleep with their mouths wide open.

But, not everyone is that lucky. Some people have a persistent dry mouth, which becomes a daily problem. Certain medications can induce dry mouth as a side effect. For people with chronic conditions, meds can leave the mouth feeling arid on a regular basis.

Plus, factors like caffeine and smoking can exacerbate dry mouth symptoms. They can minimize saliva flow and make it very hard for the mouth to remain moist. Here, we compiled the latest dry mouth statistics to see how common this problem actually is.

How to recognize dry mouth?

A dry mouth happens when the salivary glands are not creating enough saliva. The absence of saliva creates a sensation of dryness that leaves the mouth devoid of its natural lubrication. However, people can experience dryness in their mouths even if there is no noticeable decrease in the amount of saliva.

It feels like the moisture in the oral cavity has been drained away, causing the tongue to feel rough and uncomfortable. Some of the dry mouth symptoms can include:

  • Thick or viscous saliva

  • Parched and rough tongue

  • Trouble with swallowing or chewing

  • Tongue sticking to the roof of the mouth

  • Cracked and dry lips

  • Burning or prickly sensations in the oral cavity

  • Bad breath

  • Increased vulnerability to thrush infections in the mouth

  • Higher risk of tooth decay

There are many causes of dry mouth. But, it is commonly seen as a side effect of medication. Mainly as a result of radiation therapy on the neck and head or in connection with Sjogren’s syndrome.

Many different medications can impact the function of salivary glands and cause dryness symptoms in the mouth. Some drugs have a reported occurrence of dry mouth symptoms in at least 10% of cases, explains the National Library of Medicine. Some of these are diuretics, anticholinergic agents, sedative and anxiolytic agents, muscle relaxants, antidepressants, and antipsychotic agents.

The severity of the dryness depends on the dose and number of drugs the patient uses. This explains why older adults tend to be more prone to oral dryness symptoms, which is covered in the data below.

Most patients who undergo radiation therapy for neck and head cancer develop dry mouth symptoms. This happens because the salivary glands get exposed to radiation. Within the first week of standard fractionated therapy, salivary flow reduces by roughly 50% to 60%. It reaches the lowest point after 2 to 3 weeks.

The extent of the oral dryness symptoms depends on the amount of salivary gland tissue that is within the radiation area. Including the dosage of radiation. Unfortunately, it is unlikely for patients to get back the levels of salivary flow they had prior to radiation.

Additional factors that can contribute to dryness in the mouth are autoimmune disorders. Especially health issues like rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid problems, and systemic lupus erythematosus. Those who don’t keep their chronic conditions in check, like diabetes mellitus, are more likely to have salivary problems. When people breathe through the mouth, don’t hydrate often, or suffer from neck or head injuries may be prone to dry mouth symptoms.

Regardless of the specific cause, the main concern for patients is having a dry mouth. The goal of treatment is to relieve the symptoms, although completely resolving the symptoms may not be always possible. Experts advise patients to drink water regularly and avoid lifestyle habits that could exacerbate the symptoms. Such as smoking or drinking alcohol. Local remedies, like artificial saliva, can provide temporary relief. If these methods don’t work, doctors can suggest pharmacological treatment. This usually involves the use of pilocarpine.

How common is dry mouth?

According to the Oral Health Foundation, 1 in 4 adults experience dry mouth, and the rate skyrockets to 40% in people older than 55. This makes dry mouth one of the most prevalent issues that affect oral health. (2)

A 2022 study assessed how common and severe dry mouth is among people 18 years or older. The researchers also examined how dry mouth varied by age, gender, presence of disease, and medication use. Exactly 374 people took part in the study with different health problems. (3)

Based on the results, The overall prevalence of dry mouth was 43.6%, with a higher occurrence among women (61.2%). The prevalence of dry mouth was similar across different age groups for both females and males.

The number of medications and/or presence of diseases often led to dry mouth. Medication use was a huge predictor of dry mouth prevalence, regardless of age and gender. Patients who took 5 or more medications had the biggest prevalence of dry mouth (71.2%).

Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is such a common problem that in 2022, the global xerostomia therapeutic market size reached a staggering $714 million. By 2028, the numbers are estimated to reach $893 million. That’s an estimated 3.6% CAGR for the forecast period of 2023 to 2028. (4)

The main reason behind the growth of the xerostomia therapeutic market is most likely because of the rise in prescription medicine and the use of radiotherapy and chemo in cancer treatment. (5)

The FDA analyzed the impact of dry mouth in patients using Tagrisso or chemotherapy. The experts then compiled a report on how the patients felt during the first 24 weeks after starting their treatment. (6)

Tagrisso is a prescription drug for treating non-small cell lung cancer. This targeted treatment approach can reduce the tumor size and decelerate cancer progression. However, it can also cause dry mouth as a treatment side effect.

In the second week of treatment, 36% of patients who took Tagrisso reported having a dry mouth. The level of discomfort varied from mild to severe. In the first 24 weeks of treatment, the odds increased, ranging from 30% to 45%. (7)

In chemotherapy, the impact of dry mouth was a lot more profound. Severe dry mouth was recorded in 18% of patients, compared to the 10% in the Tagrisso treatment group. A very severe dry mouth was found in 9% of patients on chemo, as opposed to the 2% in the Tagrisso group.

Prevalence of dry mouth in the elderly

The exact prevalence of dry mouth (xerostomia) is not known. But, data suggests that it varies widely within the general population. In the United States, it ranges from 0.9% to 64.8%. It affects roughly 30% of adults aged 65 and older and around 40% of those aged 80 and above.

The incidence of xerostomia tends to increase with age. Mainly because the elderly often take multiple medications that can reduce saliva production. These medications are a key component of their daily chronic disease treatment, explains Pharmacy Times. (8)

According to AGS Geriatrics Healthcare Professionals, more than 50% of seniors have at least 3 health issues. Unstable blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, and heart problems are commonly seen in this particular age group. (9)

Another paper published in the Journal of Dental Research supports similar results. Dry mouth is a frequent problem in elderly patients. This study investigated the occurrence of self-reported dry mouth. Including their connection to saliva production and the use of medications. (10)

The results revealed that 46% of the participants experienced subjective symptoms of dry mouth. Among them, 12% reported persistent oral dryness, with 6% of men and 14% of women being affected.

According to the Australian Dental Journal, the prevalence of dry mouth drastically increased among older people who took two or more medicines. Even though adults in their 30s can also develop dry mouth from the medicine they are taking, their odds were much lower compared to seniors. (11)

How common is dry mouth with anxiety?

Many people with anxiety struggle with dry mouth.

Prescription medications are a valuable component in managing anxiety. The problem is, when taken on a regular basis, they too can cause side effects. Based on recent Biotene reports, around 40% of patients who use psychiatric medications complain of dry mouth. (12)

According to the National Library of Medicine, xerostomia has been documented as a frequent adverse effect (occurring in over 10% of cases) in commonly prescribed antidepressants. These medications include: (13)

  • Paroxetine

  • Venlafaxine

  • Fluoxetine

  • Duloxetine

  • Citalopram

  • Fluvoxamine

  • Desvenlafaxine

  • Sertraline

Based on a different Pub Med review, being diagnosed with anxiety carried a higher risk of dry mouth, compared to depression. Reduced binding to Alpha-1 and Alpha-2 receptors and SERT (Serotonin Transporter) showed a notable link with an elevated risk of dry mouth. (14)

How common is dry mouth with diabetes?

Diabetes can affect people’s oral health in more ways than one. Based on Biotene reports, around 40% to 80% of diabetics struggle with dry mouth. Another study showed a 76.4% prevalence rate of dry mouth in diabetic patients. (15) (16)

Diabetes can increase glucose levels, which in turn, can lead to fluid loss and substantial urination. This makes people more likely to get dry mouth. Secondly, the condition can affect the salivary glands and impair saliva production.

As a result, diabetic patients may be more prone to thrush (a fungal infection), which can also contribute to dryness in the mouth.

How common is dry mouth with allergies?

Dry mouth with allergies is highly prevalent. When someone is exposed to an allergen, whether that is dust mites or pollen, their immune system starts releasing histamines. These are chemicals that can affect the salivary glands and impair the production of saliva.

Also, allergies cause nasal blockages and post-nasal drip, making it difficult for people to breathe through the nose. The more someone breathes through their mouth, the easier it is for the mouth to feel dry.

Allergy medications can also cause dry mouth. They block the histamine receptors, which could get in the way of normal saliva production.

Based on reports from the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Dentistry, antihistamine has the highest prevalence of dry mouth (66.66%) compared to any other medication. Such as pain meds, psychotherapeutics, endocrinologic agents, and antihypertensive drugs. (17)

How common is dry mouth with flu and cold?

It’s very likely that you will have a dry mouth if you have a common cold or flu. When people have the flu or cold, their immune system responds to the viral infection. This results in a wide range of symptoms, such as a sore throat, cough, congestion, and fever.

Mouth breathing increases the odds of dry mouth, including the use of decongestants. When dry mouth is a problem, it is critical to stay hydrated. Although this isn’t a serious issue, it can interfere with daily life. Consult with a specialist if dry mouth is a big problem for you.

How common is dry mouth with COVID-19?

Dry mouth is a known symptom of Covid-19. When the virus attacks the salivary glands, it can cause numerous alterations. These alterations are known for making the mouth very dry. According to experts, Covid can bind to ACE2 receptors. The mouth has a ton of ACE2 receptors, which could explain why COVID-19 can cause dry mouth. (18)

Based on 2021 reports from Future Virology, dry mouth occurred in 60% of patients 3 to 4 days before the onset of other symptoms. In some cases, dry mouth happened simultaneously or 1 to 2 days after the other symptoms began. As patients started taking adequate treatment, the dry mouth symptoms gradually improved. (19)

Why dry mouth is increasing and what things you can do?

Dry mouth is a common side effect of medications. In 2018, 269 million people used medications around the world. This is 30% more compared to 2009, according to a UNODC Drug Report. (20)

There is also an increasing aging population, explains WHO. By 2030, 1 in 6 people worldwide will be 60 years or older. During this period, the proportion of people aged 60 and above will go up from 1 billion in 2020 to 1.4 billion in 2030. (21)

Considering that older adults have higher odds of using more medicine for different chronic illnesses, the odds of experiencing dry mouth are also higher.

Lifestyle factors can also make dry mouth more prevalent, such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. People who smoke or drink can experience a reduction in salivary flow on a regular basis. Underlying health conditions, like diabetes, mental health problems, and autoimmune disorders, can result in a higher prevalence of dry mouth.

So, what can you do to treat mouth dryness?

The best way to treat the problem is to know what’s causing it. Consult with a healthcare expert if medications are causing dry mouth as a side effect. They can suggest you reduce the dose or change the medication.

Other ways to relieve dry mouth include:

Cut back on coffee - Coffee contains caffeine. Caffeine is a known diuretic. Diuretics cause frequent urination and increased risk for dehydration.

Chew sugar-free gum - Chewing on gum, especially one that doesn’t have sugar, can help improve saliva flow. People with regular symptoms of dry mouth often benefit from xylitol gums. Make sure to consume these products in moderation to avoid gastrointestinal problems.

Avoid using an alcohol-based mouthwash - Alcohol is very acidic and has a drying effect on tissues. Alcohol-free mouthwashes, especially those that contain xylitol can be a more practical alternative.

Try all-natural OTC saliva substitutes - Saliva replacements are meant to alleviate the sensation of dryness and mitigate the discomfort in the mouth or throat. These products can be useful for people with specific medical conditions, undergoing therapy, or using prescription medications. Essential Sprays All-Natural Dry Mouth Spray is a great choice.

Practice breathing through the nose - Mouth breathing can cause dry mouth symptoms. When you inhale air through the nose, you restore proper moisture balance and support normal saliva production.

Stop smoking - Tobacco use is a major contributor to dry mouth. When you quit smoking, you reduce the odds of experiencing these symptoms.

If you are someone who often struggles with dry mouth, then you need to take extra care of your mouth and teeth. The tips below can help:

Reduce the intake of acidic and sugary foods. They make you prone to tooth decay.

Use fluoride toothpaste. Consult with a dentist if fluoride toothpaste can work for you.

Get regular dental check-ups. Book an appointment with your dentist at least 2 times a year. They can help pinpoint and treat any dental issues that might lead to dry mouth.

If neither of these options helps, see an ENT specialist. This is a healthcare expert who specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions related to the throat, ear, and nose. They work closely with other medical professionals to give you an appropriate treatment.


Dry mouth (xerostomia) is a remarkably common health issue that impacts a major portion of the global population. The reason for such a high occurrence rate is multifaceted. It could be because of simple lifestyle habits, such as dehydration, smoking, and drinking. But, it can also occur as a medication side effect when treating serious medical conditions.

The human body needs saliva to keep oral health in excellent shape. When more saliva reaches the mouth, it is easy to speak, swallow, and chew. People with chronic health problems who take more than one medicine are more likely to experience mouth dryness. So, take the necessary precautions, such as drinking lots of water and eating fruits to restore comfort in your mouth and promote well-being and quality of life. Join our Facebook Group to learn more about living with dry mouth.


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