Dry Mouth - What You Should Know

1
What Is Dry Mouth?

Teenage girl drinking water
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Dry mouth is a condition related to having insufficient saliva. The medical term for dry mouth is xerostomia. Everyone has a dry mouth occasionally, especially when nervous, upset, or under stress.

Dry mouth is not a normal part of aging. If you have a dry mouth all or most of the time, it can be uncomfortable and can lead to serious health problems. If you think you have dry mouth, see your dentist or doctor. There are things you can do to get relief.

Dry Mouth: More Than Uncomfortable

  • Dry mouth can be a sign of certain diseases or conditions, such as Sjogren's syndrome.
  • Dry mouth can cause difficulties in tasting, chewing, swallowing, and speaking.
  • Dry mouth can increase your chance of developing dental decay and other mouth infections.
  • Dry mouth can be caused by certain drugs or medical treatments.

Saliva does more than keep the mouth wet:

  • Saliva helps digest food.
  • It protects teeth from decay.
  • It prevents infection by controlling bacteria and fungi in the mouth.
  • It makes it possible for you to chew and swallow.

Symptoms of Dry Mouth

  • sticky, dry feeling in the mouth
  • trouble chewing, swallowing, tasting, or speaking
  • burning feeling in the mouth
  • dry feeling in the throat
  • cracked lips
  • dry, tough tongue
  • mouth sores
  • mouth infections

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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 the mouth wet. There are several reasons why the salivary glands might not be working right.

Disease

Sjogren's Syndrome is a major cause of dry mouth.

Other disorders can also cause dry mouth or affect the salivary glands. Some people experience dry mouth even if their salivary glands are working correctly. Some with certain diseases, such as Parkinson's disease, or those who have had a stroke, may not be able to feel wetness in their mouth and may think their mouth is dry even though it is not.

Side Effects of Some Medicines

More than 400 medicines can cause the salivary glands to make less saliva. However, you should not stop taking them without asking your doctor. Your dose may have been adjusted to help protect against drying side effects or the drug you take may have been selected because it is less likely to cause dryness. Drugs that can cause dryness include:

  • Antihistamines
  • Decongestants
  • Diuretics
  • Some anti-diarrhea drugs
  • Some anti-psychotic drugs
  • Tranquilizers
  • Some blood pressure medicines
  • Antidepressants

Radiation therapy

The salivary glands can be damaged if they are exposed to radiation during cancer treatment.

Chemotherapy

Drugs used to treat cancer can make saliva thicker, causing dry mouth.

Nerve damage

Injury to the head or neck can damage the nerves that signal salivary glands to produce saliva.

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How Is Dry Mouth Treated?

Dry mouth treatment will depend on what is causing the problem. If you think you have dry mouth, see your dentist or physician.

  • If your dry mouth is caused by medicine, your physician might change your medicine or adjust the dosage.
  • If your salivary glands are not working normally but can still produce some saliva, your physician or dentist might give you a medicine that helps the glands work better.
  • Your physician or dentist might suggest that you use artificial saliva to keep your mouth wet.

Relieving Dry Mouth

  • Sip water or sugarless drinks often. You should only take sips of water. Drinking large amounts of liquid will not make your mouth less dry. It will make you urinate more often and may strip your mouth of mucus, causing even more dryness.
  • Avoid drinks with caffeine. Drinks such as coffee, tea, and some sodas that contain caffeine can dry out the mouth.
  • Sip water or a sugarless drink during meals. This will make chewing and swallowing easier. It may also improve the taste of food.
  • Chew sugarless gum or suck on sugarless hard candy to stimulate saliva flow. Flavors such as citrus, cinnamon or mint-flavored candies are good choices. Take note, they must be sugar free because dry mouth makes you extremely prone to cavities.
  • Don't use tobacco or alcohol. Tobacco and alcohol tend to dry out the mouth.
  • Avoid certain foods. Be aware that spicy or salty foods may cause pain in a dry mouth.
  • Use a humidifier at night.

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Better Oral Health

Remember, if you have dry mouth, you need to be even more attentive to keeping your teeth clean and healthy. Make sure you:

  • Gently brush your teeth at least twice a day.
  • Floss your teeth every day.
  • Use toothpaste with fluoride. Most toothpastes sold at grocery and drug stores contain fluoride.
  • Avoid sticky, sugary foods. If you do eat them, brush immediately afterwards.
  • Visit your dentist for a check-up at least twice a year. Your dentist might give you a special fluoride solution that you can rinse with to help keep your teeth healthy.

Other Problems

  • Dental Cavities (cavities are holes that damage the structure of teeth)
  • Gingivitis (gingivitis is a disorder involving inflammation of the gums)
  • Periodontitis (periodontitis is a dental disorder that results from progression of gingivitis, involving inflammation and infection of the ligaments and bones that support the teeth)
  • Tooth Abscess (a tooth abscess is a collection of infected material (pus) resulting from bacterial infection of the center (pulp) of a tooth)
  • Halitosis (bad breath odor is unpleasant, distinctive, or offensive)

Source: NIH Publication No 99-3174 (edited)

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