Does your mouth feel parched? Do you have difficulty swallowing and trouble forming words? You may be one of the many people who experience dryness of the mouth from time to time. However, persistent dry mouth, also called xerostomia, can be a cause for concern. If the condition isn’t treated, you can develop cavities, gum disease and oral infections. Dry mouth causes often include medications and dehydration. Some people might experience dry mouth as a result of a disease or other medical condition. Here is some more information on dry mouth and what you can do about it.
What is Dry Mouth?
Dry mouth means you don’t have enough saliva, or spit, to keep your mouth moist. Everyone has a dry mouth once in a while, especially if you’re nervous, upset or under stress. But if you have a dry mouth all or most of the time, it can be uncomfortable and can lead to more serious health problems or indicate that a more serious medical condition may exist. That’s because saliva does more than just keep the mouth wet —it helps digest food, protects teeth from decay, prevents infection by controlling bacteria in the mouth, and makes it possible for you to chew and swallow.
What causes Dry Mouth?
People get dry mouth when the glands in the mouth that make saliva are not working properly. Because of this, there might not be enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. There are several reasons why these glands (called salivary glands) might not work right.
- Side effects of some medicines — more than 400 medicines can cause the salivary glands to make less saliva. Medications often cause the condition by limiting the amount of saliva produced by the salivary glands. Some medications that can lead to dry mouth include treatments for high blood pressure, depression and cancer. If you think your dry mouth is connected to a medication you’re taking, talk to your doctor about your options.
- Disease — some diseases affect the salivary glands. Xerostomia is often one of the major symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder. If you suffer from the disorder, your immune system attacks the glands that produce saliva and other sources of moisture in the body. To determine whether your dry mouth is caused by Sjögren’s, a doctor might measure the rate of salivary flow or perform a biopsy of the small salivary glands on your lower lip to look for antibodies commonly associated with the disorder. Both the condition and treatment of Parkinson’s disease can lead to dry mouth in patients. Furthermore, people with Parkinson’s disease may experience excessive saliva and drooling while they are experiencing dry mouth. Other conditions that can lead to dry mouth include Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and depression.
- Radiation therapy/Chemotherapy — the salivary glands can be damaged if they are exposed to radiation during cancer treatment. Some drugs used to treat cancer can make saliva thicker, causing the mouth to feel dry.
- Nerve damage — injury or surgery to the head or neck can damage the nerves that tell salivary glands to make saliva which can result in dry mouth.
- Dehydration — dehydration is another common cause of dry mouth and can be a result of not getting enough fluid or of losing too much. If you’re suffering from a stomach bug, for example, you might lose a lot of fluid due to vomiting, and you might not replace the fluid because you feel too nauseated to drink. A high fever can also leave you dehydrated. Additionally, you might suffer from dehydration and dry mouth if you exercise on a hot day and sweat profusely.
What Are the Symptoms of Dry Mouth?
Common symptoms include:
- A sticky, dry feeling in the mouth
- Frequent thirst
- Sores in the mouth; sores or split skin at the corners of the mouth; cracked lips
- A dry feeling in the throat
- Saliva that seems thick and stringy
- A burning or tingling sensation in the mouth and especially on the tongue
- A dry, red, raw tongue
- Problems speaking or trouble tasting, chewing, and swallowing
- Hoarseness, dry nasal passages, sore throat
- Bad breath
How is Dry Mouth Treated?
The only permanent way to cure dry mouth is to treat its cause. If your dry mouth is the result of medication, your doctor might change your prescription or your dosage. If your salivary glands are not working properly but still produce some saliva, your doctor may give you a medicine that helps the glands work better. If the cause of your dry mouth cannot be eliminated, or until it can be, you can restore moisture to your mouth a number of different ways. Your dentist may recommend mouth moisturizers, such as a saliva substitute. Rinsing with mouthwashes specially formulated to help dry mouth may also bring relief. You can also:
- Sip water or sugarless drinks often
- Avoid drinks with caffeine, such as coffee, tea and some sodas, which can cause the mouth to dry out
- Chew sugarless gum or suck on sugarless hard candy to stimulate saliva flow (if some salivary gland function exists)
- Don’t use tobacco or alcohol, which dry out the mouth
- Be aware that spicy or salty foods can cause pain in a dry mouth
- Use a humidifier at night
If you have any questions about dry mouth, call Winning Smiles to schedule an appointment with your dentist – 716-332-2444.