Ever felt your mouth suddenly going dry and the need to reach for some water to get rid of the dryness? This is a condition that may occur to you frequently. It is called, fittingly enough, dry mouth. Dry mouth is a condition that can occur due to reduced amounts of saliva in the mouth. Dry mouth is also known as xerostomia.
Xerostomia can cause various problems for a person including difficulties in speaking, eating, and digesting food. Trouble digesting food can cause gastroenterological problems and even result in malnutrition. Severe dryness of the mouth and dysfunction of the salivary glands can cause anxiety and lifelong disorders associated with the mouth and throat. These disorders could eventually lead to the impairment of the quality of one's life.
Dry mouth is a very common condition, occurring in almost 10% of all people. It occurs more often in women than in men, and occurs more frequently in older people. As one ages, the production of saliva gets affected. This happens with age and also as a side effect of various medications taken by the elderly for various reasons. These medicines include both prescription and non-prescription medications.
What Is the Role of Saliva in Regular Oral Functions?
Saliva is an important element in maintaining the health of the mouth, though its importance is often underestimated. The lubricant properties of saliva are important for the comfort of the mouth and also provide protection to oral tissue against various problems that can occur in the mouth like ulcers, sores, and other problems that could arise due to mouth dryness.
Saliva also facilitates easy eating and talking. The acids in the mouth are also neutralized with the help of saliva, helping to prevent tooth decay and other oral threats like bacterial attacks. Saliva is helpful in digesting food and also prevents the minerals in the teeth from eroding. Saliva also enables the taste function in the mouth of a person, acting as a solvent to activate and stimulate the taste buds. Since saliva contributes to so many functions in the mouth, its absence and insufficiency cause the impairment of these functions.
What Are the Causes of Dry Mouth?
Dry mouth can occur in people due to various reasons, including the following:
- As a side effect of certain medications: Dry mouth can occur in people as a side effect of various medications, both prescription and non-prescription. A number of medicines that are used to treat ailments like depression, anxiety, pain, allergies, asthma, and Parkinson’s disease are known to have dry mouth as one of the side effects. Dry mouth may also occur as a side effect of various muscle relaxants and sedatives, which are often used in various medical conditions.
- Diseases and medical conditions: Sometimes, dryness of the mouth occurs as an attendant symptom of medical conditions, such as HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, anemia, stroke, and so on.
- Certain medical treatments: Certain medical treatments can cause damage to the salivary glands. Damage to the salivary glands, the glands that make saliva, can reduce the amount of saliva produced. For example, the damage could stem from radiation to both the head and neck as well as from chemotherapy treatments.
What Are the Symptoms of Dry Mouth?
Individuals who are heard complaining of dryness in the mouth usually have some or all of the below-mentioned symptoms:
- Frequent urge to drink water or always feeling thirsty
- Dry feeling in the mouth
- Sore throat or dryness in the throat even after having had a glass of water
- Difficulties in chewing, speaking, or swallowing
- Lips becoming cracked or chapped
- Increased urge to drink something in order to swallow any solid food
- Sense of taste getting diminished or altered
- Hoarseness in the voice
- Nasal passages feeling dry
- The corners of the mouth going dry
- Bad breath
- Gums turning pale
- Dryness in the eyes
- Continuous cough
- Ulcers or sores in the mouth
- Finding it difficult or uncomfortable to wear dentures
- Decay in the mouth, especially in the corners of the gum line
- Tingling sensation in the mouth, throat, or tongue
- Gingivitis or bleeding gums
- Fungal infection such as yeast, causing white tongue
Often, individuals suffering from dry mouth due to fungal infections find that the fungal infection is also associated with other underlying medical conditions such as HIV, Addison’s disease, or diabetes. Signs such as burning of the tongue and white or dark plaque on the surface of the tongue or other soft tissue in the mouth are associated with fungal infection of the mouth. In other cases, individuals, especially those who are mouth-breathers, usually face the issue of dry mouth mostly at night while sleeping.
Diagnosis of Dry Mouth
When there is any instance of dry mouth, a dentist would be able to determine the root cause of the case of dry mouth and obtain a proper diagnosis. With the help of diagnosis, a plan for treatment and management of the problem can be made. The dentist first inspects the main salivary glands and ducts to look for any blockages, and then measures the stimulated as well as unstimulated flow of saliva. The dentist also checks the lips, tongue, and other oral tissue. At times, even when the salivary flow is adequate, a patient may complain of dryness in the mouth. The treatments vary from person to person, depending on the symptoms being experienced by each individual.
Home Remedies to Treat Dry Mouth
Here are some simple home remedies that are helpful in treating dry mouth.
1. Chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free candy
Chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free candy helps in stimulating the salivary glands. This stimulation helps to relieve dry mouth. Any flavor of gum or candy will work, although it is recommended that you do not overuse gum or candy as they can become addictive for some people. Also, do not use gum or candy with sugar as it can be bad for your teeth.
2. Restrict alcohol intake
Alcohol increases the dryness of your mouth. Avoid alcohol and products that contain alcohol, including mouthwash, which could worsen the dryness of your mouth. Instead, look into preparing your own alcohol-free mouthwash at home.
3. Stay hydrated
One of the best ways to prevent dry mouth is to increase your fluid intake and stay hydrated. Regularly sipping water helps to avoid dry mouth. Hydration encourages the salivary glands to produce more saliva, and thereby prevents drying of the mouth.
4. Switch to a soft-bristled toothbrush
When you are suffering from dryness of the mouth, it is advisable to use a toothbrush with soft bristles, which can more easily reach the crevices in and between the teeth. This is effective for cleaning the mouth thoroughly and removing the bacteria that leads to bad breath. Over time, this will also help in preventing dryness of the mouth.
5. Avoid breathing through the nose
If you have dry mouth, it is best to try to consciously breathe through your nose and avoid breathing through your mouth, as the latter dries out your mouth sooner. Use saline drops if you are finding it difficult to breathe through your nose due to nasal congestion.
6. Use a room humidifier
To avoid dryness of the air further drying up your mouth, use a humidifier in your room at night. A humidifier is extremely helpful in enabling easier breathing.
Gargling every day with a cup of warm water with a spoon of salt mixed in helps in relieving dryness of the mouth. It also helps in activating the salivary glands so that they secrete saliva.
Inhale the steam from boiling water to open up and decongest nasal passages and airways.
9. Cayenne pepper
Cayenne pepper is known to be a good stimulator for the salivary glands, thus enhancing the flow of saliva in the mouth. Cayenne pepper has a number of health benefits and helps in treating a number of other conditions besides. Cayenne pepper should be included regularly in your meals for best and long-term health benefits.
10. Fennel seeds
Fennel seeds help in the production of saliva. Therefore, those with dry mouth are often advised to chew on some fennel seeds after every meal. It helps treat bad breath, dry mouth, and also helps in the digestion process.
11. Using techniques like oil pulling
Oil pulling is known to have a number of health benefits and has also been used as a solution to a number of oral problems. Gargle with a spoonful of coconut oil and spit it out after 15 minutes. Rinse out the mouth thoroughly with warm water after gargling.
12. Chewing cardamom
Cardamom has often been used as a mouth refresher, as it has a number of oral health benefits. Some of these health benefits include adding moisture to the mouth and getting rid of bad breath. Once or twice every day, either chew cardamom seeds or drink boiled water in which some cardamom has been steeped.
13. Chewing ginger
Ginger is known to be a very effective remedy in conditioning the salivary glands to produce more saliva. It has also been known to add some freshness to the mouth. Chewing upon a small piece of ginger has many benefits, including improving digestion, refreshing the breath, and alleviating the problems associated with mouth dryness.
The Modes of Treatment for Dry Mouth
Treatment is divided into four different categories: saliva preservation, substitution, stimulation, and prevention of yeast infection and caries.
Saliva preservation: If the content of saliva is low in the mouth, one must do as much as possible to ensure that oral tissue is kept moist, and try to limit those things that would make the mouth dry. Those complaining of dryness in the mouth should try to breathe through their noses as much as possible, and avoid breathing through their mouths. Also, one should avoid the intake of caffeine, tobacco, or alcohol. To introduce more moisture into the room, one should use a humidifier. It can be kept at the bedside while one sleeps. Restrict the use of decongestants or OTC antihistamines, which can lead to dryness of the mouth.
Saliva substitution: As mentioned in the above section, there are multiple home remedies that can help replace the moisture that is usually provided by the saliva in the mouth. Included are drinking water frequently throughout the day, mostly while eating. One can also suck on ice chips in between meals throughout the day, so that the mouth remains moist as much as possible. Mouthwash is also considered good, but in some instances it can turn out to be harmful as well if it contains alcohol. A person must choose a product that does not contain alcohol, such as Biotene. Mouthwash containing alcohol leads to further dryness of the mouth. Oral lubricants, which are available in the shops, along with artificial OTC saliva substitutes, also provide help when eating or speaking. They are not known to completely cure dryness of the mouth, but they provide some relief from its various symptoms. One can also keep the lips moisturized with the help of a lip balm or petroleum jelly, as this would avoid the issue of cracked or chapped lips.
Saliva stimulation: To stimulate the salivary flow, one can chew gum or suck on candy. But it is important to remember to avoid using gum or candy that contains sugar, since it would increase the risk of developing cavities. There are sugar-free lemon drops or other candies, which are very helpful in stimulating the salivary glands. Other medications that are known to increase salivary flow are called pilocarpine or cevimeline. These medicines are available through prescription and should be avoided by people suffering from asthma or glaucoma.
Prevention of yeast infection or caries: Among the common complications of dryness in the mouth are gingivitis, fungal infections, or periodontal diseases. An oral environment that is dry makes the controlling of plaque very difficult. Hence, in such a case, meticulously taking care of one's oral hygiene becomes very essential in order to prevent gingivitis, caries, periodontal diseases, and other fungal infections. Individuals with dry mouth should opt for a low-sugar diet and start using fluoride treatments to combat any effects that mouth dryness may have on the teeth and oral tissue. There is a prescription toothpaste that contains more fluoride, phosphate, and calcium, which help to protect and remineralize the teeth when necessary. To avoid further complications, one should ensure timely visits to the dentist. Some people suffering from dry mouth often have the risk of developing fungal infections such as thrush, and hence would require topical antifungal treatments such as dissolving tablets or rinses. Dentures are also known to harbor fungal infections, and so they should be soaked daily in chlorhexidine or bleach.
There is really no way to completely prevent the occurrence of dry mouth. However, certain symptoms associated with dry mouth can be prevented with the help of home remedies or prescription drugs. It is very important to timely detect and diagnose this issue so that the treatment can also be carried out on a timely manner to avoid any further complications or chronic cases of dry mouth.
The cause of the case of dry mouth determines how fast treatment can be started. The main focus should be on timely diagnosis and eliminating the root cause of the issue. One can use simple techniques to stimulate saliva production, substitute saliva, and protect the teeth from any kind of infection.