What Causes a Dry Mouth Like Cotton?

Dry mouth can be an annoyance, but when it is a long-term problem, you need to seek medical attention. Your oral health and nutrition are at risk if you are experiencing a dry mouth, also referred to as "cotton mouth." Understanding why this condition occurs can assist you in determining how to treat it.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Dry Mouth

Tasting, chewing, swallowing and speaking are affected when your mouth is dry. Dry mouth is not considered a normal part of aging. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research lists signs of dry mouth to include a sticky, dry feeling in your mouth. You may experience a dry, cotton feeling on your tongue and in your throat. Cracked lips, mouth sores, mouth infections and a rough tongue can all be signs that you are experiencing a dry mouth.


According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, more than 400 medications can reduce your body's production of saliva. Depression and anxiety medication can cause dry mouth. Over-the-counter and prescription pain medications may cause dry mouth as side effects. Allergy and cold medications can cause your mouth to feel sticky and dry. Your mouth also may feel like it has cotton in it if you are taking medication for hypertension, psychiatric disorders, asthma, incontinence, nausea, diarrhea, acne or cancer.


Different diseases are associated with dry, cotton mouth. Herpes zoster oticus is a complication of shingles and can cause ear pain, a rash around the ear, mouth, face, neck and scalp and facial nerve paralysis. Other symptoms may include hearing loss, a lack of balance and ringing in the ears. Dry mouth, loss of taste and dry eyes may also occur. The glands that produce tears and saliva are destroyed with an autoimmune disorder called Sjogren syndrome. This disorder can cause difficult swallowing, loss of taste, speech difficulty, thick saliva, hoarseness and mouth sores.

Role of Saliva

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research warns that when saliva production is deficient, problems through the body can occur. Saliva controls the amount of bacteria and fungus in your mouth, and infection can occur when you have too little. Food digestion is dependent on saliva as are the ability to chew and swallow. Tooth decay and mouth infections can result when you have insufficient saliva.


Treatment for dry mouth depends on what is causing the condition. If your physician determines that your dry mouth is due to medication, she may explore alternative therapy options. There are medications that may help you if your salivary glands are working insufficiently. Using artificial saliva and sipping sugarless drinks often can assist in keeping your mouth moist. Avoid caffeinated drinks, alcoholic beverages and tobacco products because these products can dry out your mouth. Sip water during meals to make chewing and swallowing easier.