When a person does not have enough saliva to keep the mouth wet, he or she has a condition called dry mouth. Clinically called Xerostomia, dry mouth can cause difficulties in speaking, swallowing, chewing and tasting food. The condition can make dentures less stable in the mouth. A chronic dry mouth can lead to tooth decay and oral infections, and may be a symptom of certain diseases, conditions, and medications.
Symptoms of Dry Mouth
If you suffer from dry mouth, you may notice one or several of the following symptoms:
A dry, sticky or burning feeling in the mouth
A dry tongue or dry feeling in the throat
Difficulty speaking, tasting, chewing or swallowing
Sores in or around the mouth
Causes of Dry Mouth
- Diseases – including Sjogren’s Syndrome, HIV/AIDS, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease
Medications – more than 400 prescription and over-the-counter medications have a side effect of dry mouth
- Radiation therapy – exposure to radiation may result in permanent damage to salivary glands
- Chemotherapy – may change the flow and composition of saliva
- Stress, anxiety, depression or nutritional deficiencies
The Importance of Saliva
Saliva moistens the skin inside the mouth to make chewing and speaking easier. It also help us enjoy foods by aiding in the tasting process. In addition to keeping the mouth moist, saliva has several other functions. It prevents tooth decay by limiting the growth of bacteria and washing away food debris and plaque. Saliva provides enzymes that begin the food digestion process. It lubricates food to allow for easier swallowing.
Treatment for Dry Mouth
Treatment of dry mouth depends on the cause. If you think you may have dry mouth contact your dentist or physician to determine the cause. If dry mouth is caused by medications, a physician may adjust the dosage or change the prescription. If the salivary glands are not functioning properly, the doctor may first rule out any diseases and then prescribe a medication to help. You can take several steps to alleviate discomfort and help prevent tooth decay caused by dry mouth.
- Drink plenty of water, at mealtime and throughout the day. Keep water by your bed at night
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day or more frequently as directed by your dentist
- Floss daily
- Use a fluoride toothpaste
- Avoid caffinated and sugared beverages
- Chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free hard candy to stimulate the salivary glands
- Avoid tobacco and alcohol
- Avoid spicy, sugary or salty foods
- Ask your dentist about artificial saliva preparations
If you suffer from dry mouth, frequent trips to the dentist are very important. Visit the dentist at least twice a year, and more frequently if necessary for cleanings and early treatment of decay and cavities.