Dr. Michael Handler

What Can I Do About My Dry Mouth?

By Dr. Michael Handler

What Can I Do About My Dry Mouth?

One of the most common complaints among dental patients is that they’re suffering from a dry mouth. Not only is this uncomfortable, it can be harmful to your oral health as well as your general physical health. But is it truly a dental issue, or is it rooted in a different problem?

Symptoms

The signs of a chronically dry mouth, which is also known as xerostomia, usually show up as one or more of these symptoms:

  • A feeling of stickiness in your mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dry, sore throat, which hurts when you speak loudly
  • A tongue that feels thick and clumsy
  • Weird or reduced taste sensations
  • Bad breath or halitosis

You may find these symptoms cause you to lose the desire for food, changing your eating habits, feeling thirsty and interfering with your sleep.

Causes

Dry mouth is generally caused by not producing enough saliva. The underproduction could be the result of a multitude of issues, such as:

  1. Medication: Many modern medicines list dry mouth as a side effect, particularly drugs used for treatment of depression, hypertension and anxiety. Certain over the counter pain medications, antihistamines and muscle relaxants also cause it, and decongestants are intended to dry up the mucous membranes when you have a cold.
  2. Age: While growing older itself has minimal effect on the production of your salivary glands, several factors can be to blame. Older people usually use more medications, and are more likely to have chronic health conditions that cause it such as diabetes, stroke, autoimmune diseases or cancer treatment. All of these have a detrimental effect on your saliva production.
  3. Diseases: Conditions such as Sjögren's Syndrome and HIV/AIDS can also cause a reduction in the amount of saliva your glands produce, so if you have either of these then drying of the mouth is something to watch carefully for.
  4. Nerve Damage: Any injury or surgery in the vicinity of your mouth can result in nerve damage, which interferes with the workings of the oral cavity. This can also impact the salivary glands and cause you to develop dry mouth.

Other reasons for experiencing this condition temporarily or on a short-term basis include general dehydration, smoking or alcohol use, recreational drug use, and snoring or sleeping with your mouth open.

Treatment Options

An appointment with your dentist is the best way to determine the cause of your dry mouth symptoms. He (or she) will ask a series of questions and might refer you to your family doctor for tests. Meanwhile, you might be advised to reduce your smoking and alcohol, change your dietary habits and avoid foods with acidity, high sugar or spice contents—all of which help to aggravate tooth decay.

There are saliva substitute products available you can use to try and replace the moisture in your mouth, or lozenges that stimulate the production of saliva. Avoid mouth rinses with alcohol, which has a tendency to dry your mouth out further, and use mild anti-bacterial rinses to prevent germs from building up in the mouth.

Complications

It’s as important to treat the symptoms of dry mouth as it is to identify the underlying cause. Often, you may not be able to do anything to prevent it, but timely treatment can help avoid complications such as:

  • Tooth damage – dental caries, built-up plaque and broken teeth are all complications that can arise from not having enough moisture in your mouth. Saliva’s primary function is to wash food residue and other micro-organisms away from the oral surfaces.
  • Gum disease – bacteria breeds very happily in a dry, warm environment like a mouth without sufficient saliva to wash it away.
  • Mouth sores - these can be the result of gum disease, yeast infection or dry, split skin and cracked lips.

Illnesses caused by poor nutrition as a result of difficulty eating and swallowing. You might also experience weight reduction from loss of appetite, diarrhea from increased fluid intake, throat infections from irritation and dryness and overall lack of wellbeing caused by insomnia. We know how important good eating and sleeping habits are for oral health.

If you feel you are experiencing a dry mouth regularly, review your diet and lifestyle habits to see if anything needs to be changed in these areas. Consult with your dentist to determine whether you have any oral problems as a result, and what treatment options would be best for you.


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