Dry Mouth - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment of Xerostomia

What is Dry Mouth or Xerostomia

Your mouth is continuously producing saliva. Saliva helps prevent tooth decay by limiting bacterial growth, and naturally washing away food particles. The production of saliva is one of the body’s natural processes and one that serves many purposes, including enhancing your ability to taste the food and make it easier to chew and swallow.

If the production of saliva is hampered in any way, it can lead to a feeling of dryness, known as dry mouth or xerostomia. This oral health condition can either be a simple nuisance or have a major impact on the health of your teeth and gums, as well as your body.

When you have xerostomia, the salivary glands in your mouth don't make enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. The reasons for dry mouth can include ageing, or the use of certain medications, and also a side effect of radiation therapy for cancer. There is also a small chance of dry mouth being caused by an issue with the saliva glands themselves.

5 Causes of Dry Mouth

One of the main reasons for dry mouth is dehydration. Dehydration is caused due to multiple factors, one of which is medication. Xerostomia is a common side effect of many prescription and non-prescription drugs. Dry mouth can also be a side effect of muscle relaxants and sedatives.

  1. The natural process of ageing can also lead to the salivary glands reducing the production of saliva, leading to dry mouth.

  2. A certain chronic autoimmune disorder like Sjögren's syndrome, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, anaemia, cystic fibrosis, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, Parkinson's disease, stroke, and mumps can also cause xerostomia as a symptom.

  3. If any medication or form of treatment causes damage to the salivary glands, it can cause dry mouth. An example of this is radiation therapy on the head or neck, used to treat cancer, which affects the glands. The same can also be caused by nerve damage in the head or neck area.

  4. Lifestyle choices also affect the way your mouth produces saliva. Smoking and chewing tobacco, for example, affect saliva production and leads to xerostomia.

  5. If you exercise regularly, especially in the sun, your body may re-direct the fluids to other organs, leading to dry mouth.

Symptoms of Dry mouth

Some of the most common effects of dry mouth include:

  • Dryness or a feeling of cotton in your mouth

  • Thick and stringy saliva

  • Bad breath

  • Increase in tooth decay, plaque, or gum disease

  • Difficulty chewing, speaking and swallowing

  • Dry or sore throat and hoarseness

  • Fungal infections in the mouth, such as thrush

  • Dry or grooved tongue, and fissured or cracking lips

  • Problems wearing dentures

Dry mouth Problems

The issues of xerostomia are not just medical, but also extend to other areas. For one, you can feel a difference in your taste buds, and food will not taste the same. You may also feel more dehydrated and thirsty, especially at night.

For women, you may find that your lipstick sticks to the teeth, which is an indicator of dry mouth.

If left unchecked, dry mouth can raise the risk of many dental and oral problems.

Xerostomia (Dry Mouth) Treatment

Dry mouth is treated by treating its underlying causes.

For xerostomia caused by medications, you can speak to your doctor to alter the medication, or the dosage, to minimise the effects. Alternatively, your doctor can also prescribe something that will help stimulate the production of saliva for the course of the medication.

You can also try to treat dry mouth with remedies like drinking plenty of water and have ice chips throughout the day to moisten your mouth. Drinking water during meals will work like saliva, aiding in chewing and swallowing.

Make sure you are breathing through your nose only, and avoid breathing through your mouth, especially at night. A humidifier will help keep the moisture in the air and avoid drying your mouth too much.

You also need to avoid everything that could dry or dehydrate your mouth, including caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco. Sugary or acidic foods and candies cause tooth decay, which can also lead to dry mouth, so control consumption.

Most importantly, keeping good oral hygiene will keep your mouth healthy, and prevent conditions like decay and xerostomia.