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When all is well in your mouth, you probably don’t pay much attention to your saliva. It’s there, doing its job to help break down food, rinse food bits off your teeth and protect your mouth from infection. But if your saliva suddenly feels thick or sticky, you’re likely wondering what’s wrong.

Sticky saliva can make it difficult to swallow, speak and keep your mouth clean. Here’s an overview of what causes this oral phenomenon and what you can do at home to get your mouth back to normal.

What Causes Sticky Saliva?

Sticky or thick saliva can develop for a variety of reasons:

  • Stuffy Nose

    A stuffy nose due to allergies or a cold can cause thick saliva. After going to bed with a stuffy nose, you may wake up the next day with a dry, sticky mouth that feels covered in mucus. Nasal congestion often forces you to breathe with your mouth open, which can subsequently dry your mouth and make your saliva thicker and stickier than usual, as the State Government of Victoria explains.

  • Cancer Therapy

    People undergoing radiation therapy to the head or neck may develop dry mouth and thicker saliva. As the American Cancer Society (ACS) notes, this type of therapy can irritate the saliva glands, causing them to either produce less saliva or produce a thicker, stickier saliva.

  • Dehydration

    Sticky, thick saliva can also be a sign of dehydration. When you’re dehydrated, your body isn’t taking in enough fluids to replace those that are lost, according to the National Institutes of Health. A person can become dehydrated for a few reasons. If you’re sick to the point of vomiting, are not able to keep food or fluids down or are experiencing severe diarrhea, you can become dehydrated. These are common causes of dehydration in young children. Additional causes of dehydration include excessive sweating, which can occur if you exercise on a very hot day and don’t drink enough fluids, as well as excessive urination, which can occur if you’re taking certain medications.

  • Salivary Duct Obstructions

    Your salivary ducts are the tiny channels that pump saliva throughout your mouth. If they become blocked, such as by a salivary stone, your saliva flow can decrease, possibly causing dry mouth and thicker-feeling saliva, as the State Government of Victoria notes.

Is Sticky or Thick Saliva a Problem?

Having sticky saliva can be uncomfortable. Your mouth may feel full of mucus or you may find it difficult to swallow. Along with discomfort, thicker saliva can contribute to other problems in your mouth. When saliva is thin and free-flowing, it’s able to do its job of washing bacteria from your teeth, which reduces your risk of gum disease or other infections. But as the State Government of Victoria notes, a dry mouth full of thick saliva can put you at a higher risk of tooth decay and other oral diseases.

Home Remedies for Sticky Saliva

If you’re dealing with sticky or thick saliva, what remedies are there? First, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor or dentist to determine the cause, especially if it’s an ongoing problem and you’re unsure why it’s occurring.

In combination with speaking to a medical professional, there are a few things you can try at home to thin your saliva:

  • Drink 10 cups of water or liquids a day, as the ACS recommends.
  • Stay away from thick, sticky foods, such as nut butter, and to try to eat more foods that are soft or that have a high moisture content, suggests the ACS.
  • Macmillan Cancer Support recommends leaning over a steaming bowl of hot water with a towel over your head to loosen thick saliva.
  • Avoid cigarettes, alcohol and caffeinated drinks, which can contribute to mouth dryness, according to the State Government of Victoria.

If your thick saliva persists despite these at-home remedies, your doctor or dentist can recommend next steps to help you feel more comfortable.