Dry mouth, medically referred to as Xerostomia, occurs when you have insufficient saliva or spit in your mouth. Almost everyone has a dry mouth once in awhile, especially when feeling stressed, upset, or nervous. But if you have a dry mouth most or all the time, it can be an uncomfortable indicator that you have an underlying disease or condition, so it’s important that you see your dentist.
Dry mouth can make it difficult to chew, swallow, and speak, and may even alter the taste of your food. It may also result in hoarseness, sore throat, and bad breath.
Are you at risk for dry mouth?
Although older people are more susceptible to dry mouth, the condition can affect people of any age. Dry mouth is not a standard consequence of aging; rather, older people are more likely to take multiple medications that cause dry mouth.
A recent report on Oral Health in America suggests that dry mouth is a side effect of over 400 over-the-counter drugs and prescriptions, such as antihistamines, antidepressants, high blood pressure medicines, and muscle relaxants.
Other causes of dry mouth include:
- Hormone changes – like those that occur during menopause or pregnancy
- Cancer treatments – like chemotherapy and radiation of the head/neck
- Health problems – like diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and Sjogren’s syndrome
- Nerve damage – trauma to the head or neck can damage the nerves connected to the salivary glands
- Snoring or breathing with your mouth open
Why is saliva important?
- Saliva is produced by the salivary glands in the mouth, and include lubricants and enzymes. The enzymes help to digest food, whereas the lubricants make chewing, swallowing, and speaking more comfortable.
- Saliva helps in the control of bacteria that bind to the surface of teeth. They feed on sugar in the food consumed, and use it to grow. At the same time, the breakdown of sugar releases acid that erodes tooth enamel. Saliva helps to wash away sugar and food particles from the teeth and mouth, and neutralizes the acid, preventing cavities.
What to do when you have a dry mouth:
It is important that you visit your dentist to help you identify the exact cause of your dry mouth. Your dentist or doctor may then recommend oral rinses and moisturizers, or the use artificial saliva.
Also referred to as saliva substitute, artificial saliva is regulated by the FDA as a medical device. Unlike drugs that work by chemical action, saliva substitute function mechanically by lubricating or moistening the mouth without stimulating the salivary glands to produce saliva. Artificial saliva only provides short-term relief of the symptoms of dry mouth, and is usually used to reduce discomfort after an oral procedure.
Artificial saliva is available in different forms including sprays, gels, rinses, swabs, and tablets that dissolve in the mouth, and can be purchased over-the-counter. Other ways to relieve dry mouth include sipping water or sugarless drinks; chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free candy; avoiding spicy foods that irritate the mouth; avoiding irritants like caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol; and using a humidifier in the bedroom when sleeping.
Remember, if you have dry mouth, you should be extra careful about oral hygiene. Use a fluoride toothpaste, brush and floss twice a day, and avoid sugary or sticky foods and drinks.