Most people have experienced dry mouth at some point, but when it doesn’t seem to want to go away it can cause discomfort and create additional health problems. So, what is dry mouth, and how can you fix it?
What is dry mouth?
Dry mouth–also called, xerostomia–occurs when the mouth does not produce enough saliva. It’s important to note that while it is a disease, it can be a symptom of a medical disorder or a side-effect of certain medications, such as antihistamines, decongestants, painkillers, diuretics, and many others.
Saliva is the unsung hero of our mouths; it enables us to eat, drink, speak, and maintain a clean mouth. Many people are surprised to learn that saliva acts as a natural cleanser and that sufficient amounts of saliva are necessary to rid the mouth of food particles that can get lodged in the gums. Saliva also helps to remove bacteria in the mouth and neutralizes acids produced by that bacteria. Saliva is our first-line of protection against microbial invasion or overgrowth that might lead to disease. When there are insufficient amounts of saliva, the mouth cannot function the way it should and other dental and health problems may develop. Dry mouth is often seen as nothing more than a nuisance, but the effects of dry mouth can include damage to the gums and teeth.
When should I be concerned about dry mouth?
Everybody has a dry mouth at some point but there are some key symptoms that indicate the need to consult a dentist. The most obvious symptom you’ll encounter is, of course, a dry mouth that doesn’t go away quickly. You may notice that your saliva feels thick and pasty, making it difficult to swallow, chew, or speak normally. You may experience a burning feeling in the mouth, sensitivity to foods that you aren’t usually sensitive to, and a dry, rough tongue. Other common symptoms of chronic dry mouth include cracked lips, bad breath, problems wearing dentures, and mouth irritation.
If you’re experiencing these symptoms and they don’t seem to subside on their own, you should make an appointment with your dentist. It’s important not to ignore these symptoms. Chronic dry mouth can cause tooth decay and gum disease, which can result in pain and the need for extensive dental treatments. This is often avoidable by simply seeing your dentist instead of ignoring these symptoms. Plus, now that you know what dry mouth is, you can be more aware.
What causes dry mouth?
Dry mouth is caused when the salivary glands in the mouth don’t make enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. There are many reasons why these glands may not work properly. Here are some of the most common causes:
- Medications: I’m sure you’ve heard “dry mouth” listed as a side effect of countless medications and there are hundreds of medications, both prescribed and over-the-counter, that can cause dry mouth. Some drugs are more likely than others to cause dry mouth and those include medications to treat depression, high blood pressure and anxiety–as well as some antihistamines, decongestants, muscle relaxants, and pain medications.
- Aging: Many older people experience dry mouth as they age and taking more medications can certainly be a contributing factor. As we age, other factors like changes in the body’s ability to process medication, inadequate nutrition, and the presence of long-term health problems can cause dry mouth. That doesn’t mean that older people just have to deal with it though!
- Cancer therapy: Chemotherapy drugs and radiation treatments can change the nature of saliva and the amount produced. It’s something we have seen in our Smiles for Life Award winners. This may be temporary, with normal salivary flow returning after treatment is completed, but on some occasions, it does stick around.
- Other health conditions: Dry mouth can be a result of having certain health conditions, such as diabetes, stroke, yeast infection (thrush) in your mouth, Alzheimer’s disease, or autoimmune diseases such as Sjogren’s syndrome or HIV/AIDS. Snoring and breathing with your mouth open can also contribute to dry mouth. An injury or surgery that causes nerve damage to your head and neck area can result in dry mouth as well.
- Drug use: Tobacco and alcohol use, as well as recreational drug use, can increase dry mouth symptoms and as a result, cause damage to the teeth.
How can I fix my dry mouth & get rid of it?
One of the best first steps to take is to make an appointment with your doctor and your dentist so that you can determine the cause of your dry mouth. This will allow your dentist to review your medical history, the medications you’re taking, and examine your mouth. Some people find that sipping water or sucking sugar-free sweets, helps in the short term, but until you know the cause, it’s difficult to find a long-term solution. If you are going to suck on sweets or chew gum in the meantime, make sure that you use sugar-free options. Dry mouth can make you more likely to develop tooth decay and adding sugar to that is only going to exacerbate the problem.
If your doctor believes medication to be the cause, he or she may adjust your dosage or switch you to another medication that doesn’t cause a dry mouth. Many times there are other medications that achieve the same result without the dry mouth.
Your dentist can also recommend dry mouth remedies to moisturize your mouth and stimulate saliva production such as gels, rinses, pastes, and lozenges. To further emphasize, you have a higher risk of tooth decay and gum disease with dry mouth, and these can get worse faster than normal; it’s important to visit your dentist regularly to stay on top of your oral health and fix dry mouth in its tracks if there are early signs.
It’s important that you don’t just assume nothing can be done and decide to deal with having dry mouth. On top of it being uncomfortable, dry mouth can be a nuisance that turns into more serious oral health issues.
If you think you’re suffering from dry mouth, contact the Silverstrom Group today.