Dry mouth is exactly as it sounds, and is an uncomfortable condition caused by a lack of saliva. The correct medical name for dry mouth is xerostomia. Someone suffering from dry mouth is more at risk of developing dental diseases such as tooth decay an gum disease, as well as thrush and other fungal infections. Having this condition can make wearing dentures very uncomfortable as they tend to rub more easily, creating sore spots.
How Does Saliva Help Keep Teeth and Gums Healthy?
Saliva is important for oral health, as it helps to keep the oral tissues moist and comfortable, and keeps the mouth healthy. This is because saliva helps to wash away plaque bacteria and excess food particles that could otherwise cause disease.
Whenever we eat something, the mouth becomes more acidic which is partly due to plaque bacteria feeding off this food, creating acid as a by-product, and partly due to the fact that some foods are naturally quite acidic. Saliva helps the pH levels in the mouth return to normal more quickly, lessening the amount of damage done to the teeth and gums. But what causes dry mouth? It is frequently a side effect of other health conditions, but is also more prevalent in older people.
Common Causes of Dry Mouth Include:
- As a side effect of medications. Both prescription and non-prescription drugs can cause dry mouth. It can be a side effect of cold medications, anti-depressants, allergy medications, pain relief medications, as well as a huge range of other drugs, including those prescribed for Parkinson’s disease. If you think your prescription medicines may be causing dry mouth, then you should consult your physician to see if there are any alternative choices, or if they can adjust the levels. You should never stop taking prescribed medication without first seeking advice.
- Xerostomia can be a side effect of certain illnesses and infections. These include diabetes, HIV/AIDS, cystic fibrosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Certain medical treatments can cause damage to the salivary glands, including chemotherapy or radiation treatments for certain head and neck cancers.
- Sometimes trauma or surgery can damage the nerves in the head and neck, causing this condition.
- Suffering from dehydration can cause dry mouth. For example anyone with a fever, or who is sweating heavily, or who has sickness and diarrhea may have dry mouth, although this may be purely temporary.
- Some people have medical conditions that require the salivary glands to be removed.
- Dry mouth can be due to lifestyle choices, as someone who smokes or who chews tobacco is more likely to suffer from dry mouth.
Symptoms that you may have dry mouth include noticing that you are more thirsty than usual, that you have difficulty chewing and swallowing, or that you frequently have a sore throat. Other symptoms can include having bad breath, and having cracked lips or sores around the mouth.
Relieving the Symptoms of Dry Mouth
Your doctor may be able to prescribe an oral rinse, or medication to help stimulate the flow of saliva, but there are various things you can do to help relieve the symptoms. If you use tobacco products then it will help you if you can at least cut down, and preferable quit altogether. It can help to suck on sugar free candy, or to chew sugar free gum to help stimulate saliva, or to try one of the over-the-counter saliva substitutes available.
It is a good idea to make sure you keep well hydrated and drink plenty of water. Some people find it helpful to use a room vaporizer in their bedroom to help keep the humidity levels up. It can also help to try to get into the habit of breathing through your nose as much as possible. Cutting down on caffeine and alcohol can be useful, as can cutting out carbonated drinks.
It is critical to have regular dental checkups, and a good daily oral hygiene routine will help minimize the risk of developing tooth decay and gum disease. It is possible that your dentist may recommend the use of additional fluoride products to help decrease the risk of dental diseases.