You’re most likely to experience dry mouth (xerostamia) when you’re upset, nervous or under stress. But if you have dry mouth most of the time, you may need to consult your dentist or doctor about it.
Dry mouth is caused by an insufficient flow of saliva. It is not a disease but a common side effect of certain medications or a symptom of medical disorders. Dry mouth is not a normal part of aging and left untreated, it can lead to more serious health problems.
Saliva does more than keep the mouth moist. It helps digest food, making it possible for you to swallow and chew. It is also one the body’s best defenses against tooth decay. Saliva maintains the health of the soft and hard tissues in the mouth, and provides first-line protection against bacterial and fungal infection.
What are the symptoms of dry mouth?
- A sticky, dry feeling in the mouth and the throat
- Sores in the mouth, cracked lips, split skin at the corners of the mouth
- Difficulty in speaking, chewing, swallowing and tasting
- Burning sensation in the mouth and on the tongue
- Sore throat, hoarseness and dry nasal passages
- Bad breath
- Mouth infections
What causes dry mouth?
- Medication side effects – Hundreds of medications can induce dry mouth. The list includes decongestants, diuretics, blood pressure medications, antidepressants, antihistamines, muscle relaxants, drugs used to treat urinary incontinence and Parkinson’s disease.
- Medical conditions – Some diseases like Sjögren's Syndrome, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and Parkinson's disease may cause the salivary glands to make less saliva.
- Chemotherapy – Cancer-fighting drugs may harm the normal cells in the mouth. Chemotherapy side effects may cause problems with the teeth and gums, soft mouth tissues and salivary glands.
- Radiation therapy – When exposed to radiation, the salivary glands may get damaged and produce less saliva. This damage can even be a lifelong problem.
What can you do to ease dry mouth?
- Keep your mouth moist by drinking plenty of water.
- Caffeine dries the mouth. Avoid drinks with caffeine such as coffee and tea.
- Chew sugarless gum or suck on sugarless candy to stimulate saliva flow.
- Do not smoke or drink alcohol.
- Use a room vaporizer or humidifier to add moisture to the bedroom air.
- Ask your dentist, doctor or pharmacist for over-the-counter artificial saliva substitute.
Without sufficient saliva, tooth decay and gum disease can occur. Dry mouth is also a known culprit behind chronic bad breath. If you’re using any of the medications mentioned above, or you feel like you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of dry mouth, consult your dentist or doctor immediately.