Saliva, while often taken for granted, is critical to many functions of the mouth and throat. Saliva helps lubricate the mouth; makes speaking, chewing, and swallowing possible and comfortable; and protects the teeth and gums. However, when your salivary glands aren’t doing their job properly, the result is a condition known as “dry mouth.” Also referred to as xerostomia, dry mouth is a fairly common oral health condition that affects many people across the nation and the world.
Symptoms of Dry Mouth
Individuals suffering from xerostomia often report a variety of symptoms affecting the mouth and throat. The most common signs of dry mouth include:
- Mouth and throat dryness
- Bad breath
- Thick or sticky saliva
- Difficulty chewing, speaking, or swallowing
- Altered sense of taste
- Unpleasant taste in the mouth
- Excessive and frequent thirst
- Dry, raw, red, or rough tongue
- Mouth sores
- Burning or tingling sensation in mouth, especially on the tongue
Causes of Dry Mouth
Many different types of medications—both prescription and over-the-counter—can cause dry mouth. Xerostomia is a side effect of common drugs such as antidepressants, antihistamines, decongestants, pain medications, and muscle relaxants, in addition to medications for allergies, acne, obesity, hypertension, asthma, and many more.
Several different types of drugs specifically designed for cancer treatments can cause dry mouth, as well. Some chemotherapy drugs can affect saliva production and radiation treatments to the head or neck can temporarily or permanently damage salivary glands.
Additionally, some health conditions and illnesses can present with symptoms that include dry mouth. Conditions that often cause dry mouth include:
- Sjögren’s Syndrome
- Cystic Fibrosis
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
Lifestyle Choices & Behaviors
Furthermore, certain lifestyle choices and behaviors can cause xerostomia. Tobacco use, whether smoking or chewing, can cause dry mouth, along with a host of other serious health problems. Caffeine and alcohol both decrease saliva production, so excessive consumption of drinks containing these substances can lead to dry mouth as well.
Individuals who snore or breathe with their mouth open can experience dry mouth as well.
Dangers of Dry Mouth
While it may seem like merely an annoying or uncomfortable condition, dry mouth can actually cause a host of other, more serious health issues. Saliva helps to wash away food particles and plaque-causing bacteria. Thus, decreased saliva production from xerostomia can lead to increased plaque build-up, tooth decay, gum disease, mouth sores, fungal infections of the mouth, nutritional deficiencies (due to difficulty chewing and/or swallowing), and more.
Clinical Treatments for Dry Mouth
If you’re suffering from a diagnosed case of dry mouth, your doctor or dentist may recommend a number of treatment options, depending on the cause, your symptoms, and the severity of your case.
- If your dry mouth is a side effect of a medication, your doctor may prescribe an alternate medication for you to try. They may also suggest a number of different products to help alleviate your symptoms, such as oral rinses and artificial saliva.
- If your xerostomia is especially severe, your doctor may prescribe medication specifically to increase saliva flow and production.
- If your dry mouth is causing additional oral health issues, such as tooth decay or gum disease, your dentist may recommend a fluoride rinse or trays to strengthen enamel and prevent future damage related to dry mouth.
At-Home Treatments for Dry Mouth
In addition to following the recommendations from your doctor and dentist, there are a number of steps you can take at home to combat xerostomia.
- Use a humidifier or vaporizer to increase the humidity levels in your living space.
- Stay hydrated and keep your lips moisturized.
- Avoid products that can make xerostomia worse, such as caffeine & alcohol (including mouthwashes with alcohol), tobacco, and over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as antihistamines and decongestants.
- Chew sugar-free gum (with xylitol) or suck on sugar-free candies to encourage saliva production in the mouth.
- Use an OTC toothpaste or mouthwash specifically designed to help alleviate the symptoms of dry mouth.
- Brush your teeth twice a day, floss every day, rinse with a fluoride mouthwash without alcohol, and visit your dentist regularly.
Get Professional Help for Dry Mouth
If you believe you have xerostomia or need help treating your dry mouth condition, the experienced and compassionate dentists at Acworth Center for Family Dentistry are here to help. Schedule an appointment by calling (770) 203-1711 or by filling out this short online contact form.