If you’ve been experiencing a dry feeling in your mouth and throat, you probably have xerostomia. This condition is commonly known as dry mouth. It affects around 10% of the population, with the figure rising to 20% among older adults. It’s also more prevalent in women. Apart from a dry mouth, other symptoms include bad breath and cracked lips. The condition can also cause speech difficulties, anxiety, throat disorders, and tooth decay.
Most people take saliva for granted because they don’t understand its benefits. This naturally produced fluid lubricates your mouth, protects it against sores, and enhances your ability to taste. It also neutralizes acids and helps in preventing fungal, bacterial, and viral threats.
What Causes Dry Mouth?
Xerostomia occurs when your salivary glands can’t secrete enough saliva. The following conditions may adversely affect the production of saliva:
1. Medication: Several prescription and over-the-counter drugs cause dry mouth as a side effect, including anxiety, depression, allergy, and high blood pressure medications. Others are pain relievers, antihistamines, and muscle relaxants. Chemotherapy drugs can also affect saliva secretion.
2. Age: You’re more likely to experience dry mouth as you age due to various factors. They include inadequate nutrition, side effects from certain medications, and general health issues.
3. Dehydration: Diarrhea, blood loss, excessive sweating, vomiting, fever, and burns are common causes of dehydration and dry mouth.
4. Infections or diseases: Xerostomia is a side effect of diabetes, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke, and Alzheimer’s, among other diseases. Autoimmune conditions like HIV/AIDS and Sjogren’s syndrome also affect your salivary glands.
5. Damage or trauma: You might experience dry mouth if you have nerve damage to your neck or head due to surgery or injury. It also results from surgery to remove salivary glands affected by medical issues such as tumor, blockage, or infection.
6. Lifestyle: Smoking, chewing tobacco, and alcohol use are examples of lifestyle habits that reduce salivary flow. Others include recreational drugs such as methamphetamines, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, and even marijuana. You’re also more likely to have xerostomia if you snore or breathe with your mouth open.
Treatments for Dry Mouth
In the past, medical researchers considered dry mouth an unavoidable aspect of aging. Fortunately, you can reverse or manage some of the symptoms in the following ways:
- Drink plenty of water if you feel dehydrated until your saliva starts flowing naturally. Water improves your oral health by washing away bacteria and preventing friction.
- Use alcohol-free mouthwash, which moistens your mouth without causing irritation.
- Buy saliva replacement solutions. There are various over-the-counter rinses, gels, sprays, and specially-formulated toothpaste that improve saliva production.
- Stimulate your salivary glands by snacking on and chewing sugar-free candies and gum.
- Drink non-caffeinated beverages to avoid intensifying your xerostomia symptoms.
- Install a humidifier to increase your room’s moisture levels.
- Seek specialist treatment for snoring, allergies, and other conditions that force you to breathe through your mouth.
- Cut down or eliminate contributing lifestyle habits such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and drug use.
How Your Dentist Can Help
Other than causing discomfort, dry mouth increases your chances of developing dental issues such as tooth decay and gum disease. Since it has a variety of causes, your dentist will help you identify the exact trigger. Their expert diagnosis includes an in-depth dental exam, evaluation of your medical history, and lifestyle choices.
They’ll ask about the medication you use, any chronic medical condition, whether you’ve had chemotherapy, and if you use alcohol, tobacco, or drugs. Regular appointments allow your dentist to identify and recommend preventive measures against xerostomia, as well as initiate customized treatment plans.
Optimal Oral Health Starts at Home
Your dentist will also recommend the following home remedies to manage dry mouth:
- Gently brush your teeth after every meal using fluoride toothpaste, and floss every day.
- Sip water steadily throughout the day to prevent dehydration.
- Use salivary gland stimulants such as ginger and ginseng as food additives.
- Seek immediate treatment for any dental emergencies.
It’s advisable to visit your dentist or dental hygienist at least twice a year for a routine examination and cleaning. If you must use any over-the-counter saliva stimulants, ensure they have the ADA Seal of Acceptance. For additional recommendations and treatment for dry mouth, contact your dental professional today!