Dry mouth (also called xerostomia) is what happens when saliva flow is reduced or absent. It may be a symptom of your medical condition or medications. It is not a disease and is quite common. While it may seem like a minor condition, moist saliva is critical to the health of the mouth and has protective benefits for oral tissues and to prevent tooth decay. Extreme dry mouth may contribute to permanent mouth or throat disorders.
First, let’s talk about why saliva is important. Saliva aids in killing harmful bacteria, and keeps your mouth moist, which in turn helps to prevent cavities and strengthens your teeth by restoring important minerals.
Dry mouth is a common condition. Some of the most frequent causes are from certain prescription medications such as antihistamines, diuretics, antihypertensives and sedatives. Malfunctions in the salivary glands, certain autoimmune disorders (such as Sjogren’s syndrome), fear, anxiety, and radiation or chemotherapy can contribute to dry mouth. Diabetes, dehydration, chewing tobacco, hormonal imbalances, mouth breathing and sleep apnea can cause dry mouth.
Symptoms of Dry Mouth
The symptoms of dry mouth can be mild, moderate, or severe and can cause much discomfort. Some of the symptoms of dry mouth are:
- a dry feeling in the mouth
- frequent thirst
- diminished sense of taste
- chapped or cracked lips
- increased tooth decay
- painful tongue
- fungal infections in the mouth and throat
- inflammation of the gums
- difficulty speaking, eating, or swallowing
- difficulty wearing dentures
Treatment of Dry Mouth
Keeping the mouth moist throughout the day is helpful. Hydrate! It is important to carry water with you and sip constantly during the day. Adding xylitol to your diet will help to reduce your chances of decay. This can be found in toothpaste,chewing gum, lozenges and mouth sprays. One of my favorite products is Spry mouth spray, which is portable, and can be used several times per day. Avoid caffiene, tobacco and alcohol, and mouthwash with alcohol, which are dehyrating and drying to the mouth. A humidifier, especially in the winter, helps to keep the air around you moist.
Since patients with dry mouth are prone to have a higher rate of decay it is important to have regular checkups with your family dentist. A dentist can evaluate and help determine the possible cause of dry mouth and necessary treatment options, and then monitor progress.
Laurie DeRosa RDH is a Registered Dental Hygienist on the biological dentistry team at National Integrated Health Associates, NIHA, an integrative medicine and dental center serving the Washington DC metro area. Using the latest in dental technology, her goal is to help the dental patient understand the important connection between their oral health and their overall health.