Why Anxiety Causes Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)
Many anxious and stressed people get dry mouth symptoms. This article explains the relationship between anxiety and dry mouth symptoms.
- Your mouth feels unusually dry.
- You’ve noticed you don’t have as much saliva as you normally would.
- You find it hard to swallow because of a lack of saliva.
- Your tongue feels dry or sticky.
- You’ve been diagnosed with xerostomia (dry mouth) or reduced salivation.
- You are suddenly having problems with bad breath.
- You are having difficulty chewing, speaking, and swallowing.
- Your tongue suddenly looks grooved.
- You’ve experienced a sudden change in taste.
- You are suddenly having problems wearing your dentures.
- You notice that your lipstick is sticking to your teeth.
- You have difficulty chewing and swallowing food due to a lack of saliva.
- You have so little saliva that you can’t even spit.
Dry mouth can occur rarely, frequently, or persist 24/7 day after day.
It can precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety symptoms or occur by itself.
The dry mouth anxiety symptom can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, and stress or occur "out of the blue" for no apparent reason.
It can also range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe.
This anxiety symptom can change from day to day, moment to moment, or remain as a constant backdrop to your struggle with anxiety disorder.
All of the above combinations and variations are common.
The higher the rating, the more likely it could be contributing to your anxiety symptoms, including dry mouth symptoms.
We recommend all new, changing, persistent, and returning symptoms be discussed with your doctor as some medical conditions and medications can cause anxiety-like symptoms.
If your doctor concludes your symptoms are solely anxiety or stress-related, you can be confident there isn't a medical cause.
Generally, doctors can easily determine the difference between stress- and anxiety-caused symptoms from those caused by a medical condition or the side effects of medication.
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There are two primary reasons why anxiety can cause dry mouth symptoms:
1. Anxious Behavior Activates The Stress Response
The Stress Response secretes stress hormones into the bloodstream, where they bring about specific body-wide changes that prepare the body for immediate emergency action.
This survival reaction is often referred to as the fight or flight response.
Visit our “Stress Response” article for more information about it and its many changes.
Some of these changes include:
- Increases blood sugar so that we have an instant boost of energy.
- Stimulates the nervous system so that we are more sensitive and reactive to danger.
- Increases heart rate to circulate blood to areas of the body required to fight or flee.
- Increases respiration to accommodate the increase in heart rate.
- Suppresses the digestive system so that most of the body’s resources are available to fight or flee.
- Suppresses salivation to aid with digestion suppression (saliva is an important part of the digestive process).
The combination of the above changes can cause a dry mouth.
Consequently, many anxious people experience a dry mouth because of their anxiety and how it activates the stress response.
The more anxious a person is, the more likely it is to experience anxiety symptoms, including dry mouth.
Dry mouth can persist as long as a person is anxious and a stress response has been activated.
Anxious behavior is a common cause of dry mouth.
After the stress response ends, the body recovers relatively quickly from the effects of the stress response.
However, when stress responses occur too frequently, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, the body can’t complete recovery.
Incomplete recovery can leave the body in a state of semi stress response readiness, which we call “stress-response hyperstimulation” since stress hormones are stimulants.
Hyperstimulation is also often referred to as “hyperarousal,” “HPA axis dysfunction,” or “nervous system dysregulation.”
Visit our “Hyperstimulation” article for more information about hyperstimulation and its many changes.
Hyperstimulation can cause all of the symptoms of an active stress response even though a stress response hasn’t been activated and you don’t feel stressed or anxious.
As long as the body is hyperstimulated, it can produce symptoms of any type, number, intensity, duration, frequency, and at any time, including dry mouth.
Chronic anxiety symptoms, such as dry mouth, is a common indication of hyperstimulation.
An active stress response and hyperstimulation are the most common causes for the dry mouth anxiety symptom.
However, other factors can contribute to dry mouth symptoms, such as:
Breathing through your mouth releases moisture into the air.
Many anxious people breathe through their mouths because of how anxiety activates the stress response, and the stress response increases heart rate and respiration.
As mentioned, the stress response suppresses the digestive system.
Chronic digestive system suppression can cause intermittent and chronic stomach problems, such as frequent heartburn, gas, nausea, and GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease).
Stomach upset and GERD can cause dry mouth.
Overly anxious behavior can lead to dehydration. Dehydration can cause and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms, including dry mouth.
Medication side effects
Many medications, including anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications, can cause a dry mouth as a side effect.
It’s wise to talk with your doctor and pharmacist if you suspect your medication might be causing or contributing to your dry mouth symptoms.
There are other factors, as well, which we explain in the Recovery Support area. However, they are less significant than the ones we just mentioned.
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When this symptom is caused by mouth-breathing, upset stomach, dehydration, or the side effects of medication, addressing the specific cause will eliminate dry mouth symptoms.
When this symptom is caused by an active stress response, ending the active stress response will bring a return to normal salivation.
Keep in mind it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response.
When this symptom is caused by hyperstimulation, eliminating hyperstimulation will eliminate its symptoms, including chronic dry mouth.
Containing anxious behavior, reducing stress, increasing rest, regular deep relaxation, regular light to moderate exercise, getting good sleep, and eating a healthy diet of fresh and whole foods can help the body recover from hyperstimulation.
As the body recovers from hyperstimulation, it stops presenting symptoms, including dry mouth.
Even though eliminating anxious behavior and hyperstimulation will eliminate this symptom, some people have found the following short-term remedies helpful in reducing dry mouth symptoms:
- Reduce Stress – As the body’s stress returns to a normal level, this symptom should subside. Therefore, any stress-reducing activity can help reduce and eliminate this symptom.
- Increase rest and get good sleep – Resting the body and getting regular good sleep are effective ways to reduce stress.
- Keep well hydrated – Keeping the body well hydrated could reduce and eliminate this anxiety symptom.
- Sucking on ice, sugar-free hard candy, or chewing sugar-free gum can stimulate the salivary glands.
- Breathe through your nose – Breathing through your nose rather than your mouth can prevent the mouth from drying out.
- Use a humidifier in your home if the humidity in your home is less than optimum.
- Avoid caffeine and other stimulants – Caffeine and other stimulants bring about their stimulating effect by secreting stress hormones, which suppress the salivatory glands.
- Avoid alcohol – Alcohol is a diuretic (increases urine production, which can deplete the body of water).
- Avoid over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines and decongestants since they regulate the body’s water.
- Keep sodium intake to a healthy level since sodium regulates the body’s water.
- Avoid using a mouthwash with alcohol.
- Avoid all tobacco products.
- Avoid recreational drugs – Many recreational drugs can cause and aggravate dry mouth.
Therapy is the most effective way to eliminate anxiety symptoms, such as dry mouth since unidentified and unaddressed underlying factors that cause issues with anxiety and stress are the number one reason why anxiety disorder and its symptoms persist.
Dealing with your anxiety issues (Level Two recovery) is the most important work overall if you desire lasting success.
If you are having difficulty containing your anxious behavior, becoming unafraid of your symptoms, becoming unafraid of the feelings of anxiety, eliminating your symptoms, overcoming your anxiety issues, or have what seems like out-of-control worry, consider connecting with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists.
All of our recommended therapists have personally experienced anxiety disorder and have overcome it. Their personal experience with anxiety disorder combined with their Master's Degree and above professional training makes them a good choice when overcoming worry, anxiety issues, and anxiety symptoms.
Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the best way to attain Level Two recovery success.
Why does anxiety cause dry mouth?
Anxiety activates the “fight or flight response,” which suspends digestion, including saliva so that most of the body’s resources are available to fight or flee. As long as you are anxious, you can have a dry mouth. Dry mouth is a common symptom of anxiety.
Can GERD cause dry mouth?
Yes, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) can cause a dry mouth. Furthermore, chronic anxiety can cause stomach problems, including GERD. As such, both anxiety and GERD can cause and aggravate dry mouth symptoms. Visit “Upset Stomach, GERD” for more information.
What causes dry mouth all the time?
Overly anxious behavior chronically stresses the body. Chronic stress (hyperstimulation) can cause chronic symptoms. Having a dry mouth all the time is a common indication of issues with anxiety and stress. Many anxious people experience persistent dry mouth symptoms.
Can acid reflux cause dry mouth?
Yes, acid reflux can cause dry mouth symptoms. Anxiety is a common cause of stomach and digestive symptoms, such as acid reflux, because anxiety causes the suppression of the digestive system. A suppressed digestive system can lead to acid reflux and dry mouth symptoms.
Can anxiety cause dry throat?
Yes, just as anxiety can cause dry mouth symptoms, it can also cause a dry throat. Since anxiety activates the stress response, and the stress response suspends digestion, including saliva, overly anxious behavior can cause both dry mouth and dry throat symptoms.
Can anxiety cause a sudden dry mouth?
Yes, anxiety can cause a sudden dry mouth. Anxiety activates the “fight or flight response,” which prepares the body for immediate action. Part of this emergency preparedness includes suspending digestion and saliva. Consequently, anxiety can cause a sudden dry mouth.
Can stress and anxiety cause dry mouth?
Yes, stress is a common cause of dry mouth. Since anxiety activates the stress response, and stress response stresses the body, both stress and anxiety can cause dry mouth symptoms. Many stressed and anxious people get dry mouth symptoms.
Can anxiety cause dry mouth and frequent urination?
Yes! Anxiety activates the “fight or flight response,” which suspends digestion and increases the urge to urinate. The more a person is anxious, the more these symptoms can persist. Many anxious people experience persistent dry mouth and frequent urination symptoms.
How long can dry mouth last?
Dry mouth can last as long as the cause is unresolved. If your dry mouth is caused by anxiety or anxiety-caused stomach problems, such as GERD or acid reflux, it can last until they have been addressed. Many anxious people have chronic digestive and dry mouth symptoms.
Common Anxiety Symptoms
The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.
- For a comprehensive list of Anxiety Disorders Symptoms Signs, Types, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment.
- Anxiety and panic attacks symptoms can be powerful experiences. Find out what they are and how to stop them.
- How to stop an anxiety attack and panic.
- Free online anxiety tests to screen for anxiety. Two minute tests with instant results. Such as:
- Anxiety 101 is a summarized description of anxiety, anxiety disorder, and how to overcome it.
Return to Anxiety Symptoms section.
anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including Dry Mouth.
1. Selye, H. (1956). The stress of life. New York, NY, US: McGraw-Hill.
2. Godoy, Livea, et al. "A Comprehensive Overview on Stress Neurobiology: Basic Concepts and Clinical Implications." Frontiers In Behavioral Neuroscience, 3, July 2018. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00127/full
3. Gholami, Neda, et al. "Effect of stress, anxiety and depression on unstimulated salivary flow rate and xerostomia." Journal of Dental Research Dental Clinics Dental Propects, 13 Dec 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5768958/
4. Justice, Nicholas J., et al. “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder-Like Induction Elevates β-Amyloid Levels, Which Directly Activates Corticotropin-Releasing Factor Neurons to Exacerbate Stress Responses.” Journal of Neuroscience, Society for Neuroscience, 11 Feb. 2015. https://www.jneurosci.org/content/35/6/2612.
5. Yaribeygi, Habib, et al. “The Impact of Stress on Body Function: A Review.” EXCLI Journal, Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors, 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579396/
6. Hofmann, Stefan G., et al. “The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-Analyses.” Cognitive Therapy and Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Oct. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3584580/.
7. Leichsenring, Falk. “Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy the Gold Standard for Psychotherapy?” JAMA, American Medical Association, 10 Oct. 2017, jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2654783.
8. DISCLAIMER: Because each body is somewhat chemically unique, and because each person will have a unique mix of symptoms and underlying factors, recovery results may vary. Variances can occur for many reasons, including due to the severity of the condition, the ability of the person to apply the recovery concepts, and the commitment to making behavioral change.
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