Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)

What is Dry Mouth?

Xerostomia, more commonly known as dry mouth, is a condition in which a person does not have adequate saliva to keep the mouth sufficiently moisturized. Though the underlying reasons may vary, the condition is caused when the saliva glands fail to function properly. This may be due to stress, nerves, dehydration, medications, cancer therapies, age, autoimmune diseases, drug use, smoking, and many other circumstances.

The presence of saliva helps to keep the mouth clean and prevent infection. Left untreated, dry mouth can leave a person feeling very uncomfortable. Ultimately, it can create complications for oral health. Dryness irritates mouth tissues, causing inflammation and increasing the chance of infection. Tooth decay, gingivitis, and other similar oral health concerns can arise. Patients who wear dentures will begin to encounter discomfort and problems keeping them in place.

What are the Symptoms of Dry Mouth?

Everyone experiences a dry mouth on occasion. It is when the condition does not go away that there might be a medical problem.

Symptoms include

  • Dry tongue
  • Dry sticky feeling in mouth or throat
  • Increased thirst
  • Dry nasal passages
  • Burning mouth
  • Difficulty tasting, chewing, swallowing, or speaking
  • Irritated gums
  • Chapped lips
  • Mouth sores
  • Tooth decay
  • Bad breath

Dry Mouth Causes

Also known as “cotton mouth,” a dry mouth occurs when the salivary glands are unable to secrete saliva as they should. Dehydration is the most common cause of this condition, meaning your body does not have enough fluid for saliva production. Dry mouth is also common when an individual is feeling nervous or anxious.

An underlying medical condition or problem could also trigger dry mouth. One such condition is the nasal blockage. Breathing through the mouth while asleep can cause drying of the mouth. Dry mouth is one of the main symptoms of diabetes. Dry mouth can also be caused by Sjögren’s syndrome, a condition in which the salivary glands are attacked and destroyed by the body’s immune system. Finally, radiotherapy to the neck or head can result in inflammation of the salivary glands (mucositis), eventually causing dry mouth.

Dry mouth can also be a side effect of certain medications including antihistamines, antidepressants, muscle relaxants, appetite suppressants and diuretics. Finally, chronic smoking can cause dry mouth.

How is Dry Mouth Treated?

There are several ways to treat dry mouth, and the method used depends on the cause.

Treatment includes

When medications are responsible, it may be possible to change the prescription or the dosage. Conversely, some patients benefit from medications formulated to promote saliva production. Numerous lifestyle changes can also improve dry mouth, including increased water intake, avoiding caffeinated drinks, quitting smoking and drinking alcohol, staying away from acidic foods and sugar, minimizing intake of salty and spicy foods, chewing sugar-free gum, sucking sugar-free candy, and using a humidifier. Following good oral hygiene practices also help, especially when using a fluoride rinse and toothpaste.

Dry Mouth Prevention

The most obvious dry mouth prevention measure is to ensure that you are hydrated at all times. Drink water and other sugar-free beverages throughout your day. Also, drink water during meals to ease chewing and swallowing.

You can also prevent dry mouth by stimulating saliva production. One way of achieving this is by chewing sugarless gum. Avoid gum with sugar, as this can result in tooth decay over time. Sucking sugar-free candies can also help to stimulate saliva production.

Avoid beverages and foods that trigger dry mouth. These include caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea and most energy drinks. Avoid chronic smoking and alcohol consumption too, as they are known to aggravate dry mouth symptoms. Avoid processed foods as they tend to be deceptively high in sodium, which causes dryness of the mouth. Also, avoid canned, fried and frozen meals.

Finally, get the right toothpaste. Avoid toothpaste that contains sodium lauryl sulfate as this product dehydrates the mouth. Instead, buy toothpaste that contains fluoride.