Dry Mouth

1 What is Dry Mouth?

Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is a common condition in which the mouth is abnormally dry.

This is mostly due to reduced secretion of saliva by the salivary glands in the mooth. It usually occurs as a side effect of certain medications.

However, dry mouth can also be caused by conditions that directly affect the salivary glands. Severe cases of dry mouth can lead to health problems and can affecte a persons appetite and ability to enjoy food.

Saliva helps to prevent tooth decay by neutralizing acids produces by bacteria, limiting bacterial growth and washing away food particles.

Saliva also enhances taste and makes it easier to swallow. Furthermore, saliva contains enzymes which are required for normal digestion to occur.

The treatment for dry mouth depends on the cause.

2 Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of dry mouth include:

  • Dryness in the mouth or throat
  • Thick and stringy saliva
  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty chewing, speaking and swallowing
  • A change in the sense of taste
  • Problems wearing dentures
  • More frequent tooth decay
  • Gum irritation and gum disease
  • Lipstick sticking to the teeth
Have a question aboutDry Mouth?Ask a doctor now

3 Causes

The causes of dry mouth include:

  • Certain medications, such as drugs used to treat depression, nerve pain (neuropathy) and anxiety. Other medications that can cause dry mouth include antihistamines, decongestants and muscle relaxants.
  • Cancer treatment. The chemotherapeutic drugs used can change the nature and amount of saliva that is produced. Radiation therapy can cause damage to the salivary glands, leading to decreased production of saliva. This can be temporary or permanent depending on the dose of radiation and area treated.
  • Injury or nerve damage to the head or neck.
  • Certain health conditions, such as Sjogren's syndrome or HIV/AIDS. S troke and Alzheimer's disease may cause a perception of dry mouth, even though the salivary glands are producing enough amounts of saliva. Snoring and breathing with the mouth open can also lead to dry mouth.
  • Smoking or chewing tobacco.
  • Using methamphetamine can cause severe dry mouth and damage to the teeth. This condition is known as "meth mouth".

4 Making a Diagnosis

To diagnose dry mouth, a dentist examines the mouth and reviews a patient's mediacal history and a list of all the mediactions a patient is taking.

Blood tests and imaging tests of the salivary glands may also be carried out. Tests that measure the amount of saliva produced to identify the cause of dry mouth can also be required.

If a doctors suspects a patient has Sjogren's syndrome, a biopsy of salivary glands may be taken for lab tests.

5 Treatment

Treatments for dry mouth include the following:

  • Changing medications that cause dry mouth.
  • Using products that moisturize the mouth, such as over-the-counter mouth rinses, artificial saliva or moisturizers to lubricate the mouth.
  • Using mediactions that stimulate the production of saliva, such as pilocarpine (Salagen) or cevimeline (Evoxac).
  • Preventing cavities by using fluoride trays, which can be filled with fluoride and worn over the teeth for a few minutes at night and using a chlorhexidine rinse weekly.

6 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Alternative remedies for dry mouth include:

  • Teas made from marshmallow or slipery elm
  • Electroacupuncture

Further research is required to determine weather these treatements are better than others for dry mouth.

7 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary in order to cope with dry mouth.

The following tips may help to relieve symptoms of dry mouth.

  • Sipping water or sugar-free drinks, sucking ive chips throughout the day to moisten the mouth, and drinking water during meals to aid chewing and swallowing.
  • Chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free hard candies.
  • Using over-the-counter saliva substitutes that contain carboxymethylcellulose or hydroxyethylcellulose, such as Biotene Oral Balance.
  • Breathing through the nose and not through the mouth. Treatment for snoring may be required especially if snoring causes a person to breath through the mouth at night.
  • Using a humidifier to add moisture to the air at night.
  • Moisturizing the lips to sooth dry or cracked areas.
  • Avoiding products that can worsen th symptoms of dry mouth, such as caffeine and alcohol, tobacco, over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants and sugary or acidic foods.
  • Using a fluoride toothpaste and floss.
  • Using a fluoride rinse or brush-on fluoride gel before bed.
  • Visiting the dentist frequently to have the teeth examined and plaque removed to help prevent tootht decay.

8 Risks and Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with dry mouth.

Dry mouth, if left untreated, can lead to:

  • Increased risk of having plaque, tooth decay and gum disease
  • Mouth sores
  • Fungal infections in the mouth
  • Caoted tongue
  • Sores or split ski on the corners of the mouth
  • Cracked lips
  • Poor nutrition due to problems with cheing and sawllowing
Top