What is dry mouth and what causes it?

Published:July 11th, 2012

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The clinical term for dry mouth is xerostomia, and it is caused through the mouth producing insufficient saliva. A lack of saliva means the oral cavity feels uncomfortably dry, and this is not only unpleasant but can have serious ramifications on oral health.


What are the causes of dry mouth?

Dry mouth can be due to a number of different reasons including:

  • Certain medications such as prescription drugs for Parkinson’s disease, psychotic disorders and depression can cause this condition. Other drugs which can affect the production of saliva include medications for colds, depression, as well as sedatives and muscle relaxants and medication for asthma.
  • People suffering from certain diseases including AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis and diabetes are more prone to wards developing dry mouth.
  • Some medical treatments can cause damage to the salivary glands, including radiation treatment for cancer. Sometimes this damage is permanent.
  • It’s sometimes necessary to have salivary glands surgically removed.
  • People who smoke or who chew tobacco are more prone towards suffering from dry mouth. It can also affect people who breathe through their mouth rather than their nose.
  • Sometimes dry mouth can be due to injury to the neck or head area which has damaged the salivary glands.

Common symptoms include suffering from sores in or around the mouth, or suffering from cracked lips. People afflicted with this condition frequently feel thirsty, or often have a sticky and uncomfortable feeling in their mouth. The lack of saliva can cause problems when chewing and swallowing, and sufferers often have bad breath.


The risk to oral health

The symptoms can be unpleasant enough, but suffering from dry mouth increases the risk of dental diseases such as tooth decay and gum disease. This is because saliva is very important in helping to keep the oral cavity clean. It helps to wash away bacteria and excess food particles, and also helps to keep the pH levels neutral. If you have insufficient saliva to wash away bacteria then your pH levels are likely to be more acidic, leaving your teeth and gums at risk of attack.


Lessening the effects of dry mouth

One of the first things to try and do is to ascertain why you have this condition. If you think it’s down to medication prescribed by your doctor and then it’s worth making an appointment to see if there are any alternatives, or if they are able to alter the dosage at all. You shouldn’t discontinue any medication without talking to your doctor first.

If it’s simply a question of living with the condition then there are several things you can do to keep your mouth more comfortable. The easiest thing to do is to drink more water and to make sure you are always properly hydrated. A lot of people find chewing sugar free gum or sugar free sweets can help keep the mouth moist as this can stimulate the production of saliva. If your home is a little dry then try using a humidifier to moisten the air, or it can even help to simply leave a few bowls of water around the place. There are also a number of over-the-counter saliva substitutes available or your doctor or dentist may be able to recommend a good brand.

It’s even more important to take good care of your oral health when you suffer from dry mouth. Make sure you use good quality fluoride toothpaste, and your dentist may recommend the use of a mouthwash. Seeing your dentist at regular intervals for checkups and cleanings will help lessen the risk of developing tooth decay and gum disease.

About the author

Alison, is a UK born and educated dental professional with over 25 years experience.

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