What is dry mouth?
Dry mouth is the condition of not having enough saliva, or spit, to keep the mouth wet. The dental term "xerostomia" means dryness of the mouth due to a decreased function of the glands that produce saliva. It can cause difficulties in tasting, chewing, swallowing, speaking, dental decay and other infections in the mouth.
What are the causes?
People get a dry mouth when their salivary glands are not working properly. There are several reasons why these glands (called salivary glands) might not work properly.
- Side effects of some medicines: Some medicines can cause the salivary glands to make less saliva. Medicines for high blood pressure and depression often cause a dry mouth.
- Disease: Certain diseases affect the salivary glands and can cause a dry mouth like diabetes, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease.
- Radiation therapy: The salivary glands can be damaged if they are exposed to radiation during cancer treatment.
- Chemotherapy: Cancer drugs can make saliva thicker, causing the mouth to feel dry.
- Nerve damage: Injury to the head or neck can damage the nerves that induce salivary glands to make saliva.
A dry mouth is often associated with stress. If it is present all the time, it can be uncomfortable and can lead to serious health problems.
What are the symptoms?
If you experience oral dryness, some of the common signs and symptoms are:
- a sticky, dry feeling in the mouth
- difficulty in chewing, swallowing, tasting, or speaking
- a burning feeling in the mouth
- a dry feeling in the throat
- cracked lips
- an infection in the mouth, sore throat
- bad breath
- an altered sense of taste
- tooth decay and gum disease
- difficulty in speaking
- a dry tongue
- mouth sores
- an infection in the mouth
Why is saliva so important?
Saliva does more than keep the mouth wet.
- It helps digest food
- It protects teeth from decay
- It prevents infection by controlling bacteria and fungi in the mouth
- It makes it possible to chew and swallow
Without enough saliva you can develop tooth decay or other mouth infections. You might not get the nutrients you need if you cannot chew and swallow certain foods.
What is the treatment?
The treatment depends on the cause of the problem. The dentist or physician will try to determine what is causing the problem.
- If the dry mouth is caused by medicines, the physician might change the medicine or adjust the dosage.
- If the salivary glands are not working properly but can still produce some saliva, the physician or dentist might give some medicines that help the glands to work better.
- He might suggest that you use artificial saliva to keep your mouth wet.
How can it be prevented?
- Sipping water or sugarless drinks often
- Avoiding drinks with caffeine, such as coffee, tea, and some sodas. Caffeine can dry out the mouth.
- Breathing through the nose, not mouth.
- Tobacco and alcohol are to be avoided. They dry out the mouth.
- Avoiding spicy and salty foods and foods high in sugar.
- Using a humidifier at night.
- If you have a dry mouth, you need to be extra careful to keep your teeth healthy.
- Visiting the dentist for a check-up at least twice a year. The dentist might give a special fluoride solution that you can rinse with to help keep the teeth healthy.