Dry mouth is an unpleasant, often embarrassing condition. It is caused by a lack of saliva production which is, in turn, often caused by some other medical condition. People suffering from dry mouth syndrome might experience weakened taste, bad breath, difficulty chewing and swallowing, and a host of other symptoms.
Xerostomia (Latin name for dry mouth) can be a side effect of a wide variety of diseases and medical conditions. Dry mouth causes also include radiation therapy, certain medications, and aging. Luckily, dry mouth can successfully be treated in a variety of ways. Read on to find out more about the causes, symptoms, and treatments of dry mouth syndrome.
Dry Mouth Symptoms
Xerostomia can easily be detected, as it comes with a wide range of symptoms. If you have it, you might notice some or all of the following problems:
- Bad breath
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, and even speaking
- Thick and stringy saliva
- A changed or weakened sense of taste
- Frequently thirst
- A sense of stickiness and dryness in the mouth
- Sore or dry throat or hoarseness
- Grooved, red, dry, or hoarse tongue
- Lipstick sticking to teeth
Dry Mouth Causes
Many things can lead to reduced salivary gland activity. Some of the most common dry mouth causes include medications, radiation and chemotherapy, nerve damage, infections and diseases, recreational drug use, dehydration, aging, tobacco, alcohol use, and more. Here’s a word or two on each of the major causes.
- Many medications, including some over-the-counter drugs, may cause your salivary glands to produce less saliva. The drugs most commonly associated with this condition include antidepressants, antianxiety drugs, high blood pressure medications, decongestants, antihistamines, pain medications, and muscle relaxants.
- Radiation and chemotherapy. Radiation treatments and chemotherapy drugs may cause temporary or permanent irregularities in saliva production. It is not unusual to experience such problems while receiving head and neck radiation treatment.
- Nerve damage. A surgery that caused nerve damage to your neck or head area can cause reduced saliva production. Nerve injuries in these areas can cause these problems.
- Other infections and diseases. HIV/AIDS, anemia, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, cystic fibrosis, Sjogren’s syndrome, diabetes, mumps, hypertension, and stroke are among the diseases and conditions that might cause a temporary or permanent reduction in saliva production.
- Recreational drug use. Virtually all of the most widespread recreational drugs can cause dry mouth, including marijuana, opioids, and methamphetamine.
- Conditions which cause dehydration include excessive sweating, fever, diarrhea, sweating, burns, and blood loss. They can all cause xerostomia, as well.
- Aging, the presence of long-term health issues, poor or inadequate nutrition, and a decreased ability to process medication can cause dry mouth. This study, published in 2015 by Joanna Ngo and William Murray Thompson, posits that dry mouth syndrome presents a serious problem for aging patients.
- Tobacco. Chewing and smoking tobacco can lead to reduced saliva production.
- Alcohol dehydrates the entire body, including the mouth. Prolonged use can cause temporary or permanent irregularities in saliva production.
Dry Mouth Complications
Apart from its primary symptoms, dry mouth syndrome is often followed by additional problems and health issues. Those suffering from xerostomia might experience some or all of the following complications: mouth sores, yeast infection (thrush), tooth decay, increased plaque, split skin or sores at the corners of the mouth, gum disease, cracked lips, and nutritional problems due to difficulties with swallowing and chewing.
How is Dry Mouth Diagnosed?
In order to determine what’s causing xerostomia, your doctor might need to go through your medical history and examine all the drugs you are taking, if any. Blood tests, salivary gland scans, and other tests might also be necessary. In case your doctor suspects the culprit is Sjogren’s syndrome, a biopsy of your salivary glands might be in order.
Dry Mouth Treatments
Once your doctor or dentist diagnose you with xerostomia, they may approach the treatment in several ways. Here’s a word or two on some of the most common treatment methods.
- Mouthwash and moisturizer. If you suffer from mild to intermediate xerostomia, your doctor or dentist might prescribe artificial saliva, mouth rinses, or moisturizers. Mouthwashes with xylitol are among the most efficient.
- Change your medications. In case your dry mouth syndrome is caused by your use of medications, your doctor or dentist might change your prescriptions or regulate the dosage of your current drugs.
- Dental protection. In case of severe problems with saliva production, your dentist might prescribe fluoride trays for you to wear at night over your teeth. Also, you might get prescribed a chlorhexidine rinse.
- Saliva stimulating drugs. The doctor might also prescribe you one of the many drugs that stimulate the production of saliva.
Other Things You Can Do
After you’ve been diagnosed with dry mouth syndrome and started your prescribed therapy, there are several additional things you can do to speed up the recovery process. Here are some of them.
- Chew gum. You can try chewing sugar-free and xylitol-rich gum. Also, you can try sucking on sugarless hard candies. However, be cautious, as xylitol might cause diarrhea and stomach gasses if you ingest too much of it.
- Breathing through the nose. If you breathe through your mouth and snore when you sleep, you might want to seek help for it.
- Try lip moisturizer. To deal with cracked lips and sores around your mouth, you should apply lip moisturizer.
- Increase the intake of healthy liquids. You should make sure to drink enough water throughout the day. Other sugarless drinks count, as well. If you don’t mind the cold, you can try sucking on ice chips. Also, it might be a good idea to drink some water while you eat.
- Avoid foods, beverages, medications, and products that cause dry mouth. These include alcohol, caffeine, decongestants, antihistamines, tobacco, and sugary and acidic candies.
Xerostomia (dry mouth syndrome) can manifest in a wide range of unpleasant symptoms. Some of them are bad breath, increased teeth cavity, plaque, cracked lips, and mouth sores.
The main dry mouth causes include alcohol and substance abuse, aging, medications, cancer treatment, and pre-existing illnesses and infections. Luckily, this condition can be treated with a wide range of over-the-counter and home remedies.
Apart from being unhealthy, dry mouth can also be socially awkward and embarrassing. It is, therefore, very important to react speedily and go see your doctor as soon as you notice the symptoms.