When you think of oral health problems, things like cavities or losing a tooth may be the first that come to mind. However, around one in four adults–and nearly 40% of adults over 55–suffer from a condition called xerostomia, the medical term for dry mouth. With dry mouth, the oral cavity doesn’t produce as much saliva as it’s supposed to, which can cause not only discomfort but also deterioration of healthy mouth tissues.
Those who experience dry mouth regularly may put off seeking help because they’re not sure who to talk to about their symptoms or they may be embarrassed. A visit to the dentist is often a good place to start and can provide some insight into the condition, the causes, and the symptoms, as well as ways to treat it.
Dry mouth can develop as the result of a number of possible factors. Some causes may be related to diet or lifestyle habits, while others are related to your genetics and overall health history.
One medical reason for dry mouth is an autoimmune disease such as Sjögren’s syndrome, a rare condition in which the body attacks its own tissues—specifically, those tissues in charge of producing various facial secretions, like tears and saliva. When the salivary ducts are attacked, they may become scarred or die, reducing the amount of saliva produced in the mouth.
Diabetes is a more common health-related culprit for dry mouth. When your blood sugar rises, your body may respond by increasing the frequency with which you urinate. Losing all this water can leave you dehydrated, with less liquid available to convert into saliva.
Even if you don’t have a medical condition that directly affects saliva production, you might be taking medicine that does. Some medicines like antidepressants can reduce overall salivary production, but others, like diuretics and allergy pills, can leave you with xerostomia for the same reason that diabetes does: poor hydration.
If you have a habit of sleeping with your mouth open and breathing through your mouth at night, if you snore, or if you suffer from a sleep disorder like sleep apnea, you’re more likely to experience dry mouth. This can be worsened if the air in your home is dry or if you use a dehumidifier in or near the area where you sleep. Breathing with your mouth open–especially breathing dry air–can dehydrate your oral tissues and lead to dry mouth.
If you have ever given a presentation or performance, you might have felt yourself get clammy before you went on stage. Maybe you found your mouth getting gummy and your lips cracked. The reason for this is that when a person is under high amounts of stress or nervousness, the fight or flight instinct is engaged, routing body resources–like water–away from your mouth and to the bodily systems most necessary to help you survive. For example, in addition to dry mouth, you may also experience excessive sweating as your body sends more water to your natural “cooling” system. This can create a cycle in which chronic stress and anxiety lead to chronic dry mouth.
Your body needs water in order to produce saliva. If it doesn’t have enough–such as when you are dehydrated–your body will reserve what water is in your body for more critical bodily functions.
Nicotine constricts your blood vessels and reduces the flow of water through your body, affecting saliva production and causing dry mouth. Alcohol has a diuretic effect that flushes water out of the body and prevents proper hydration, causing dry mouth.
Although a dry mouth is the most common symptom of xerostomia, there are other signs that could indicate the condition, even if you do not have the physical sensation of dryness in your mouth. Symptoms of dry may include:
Getting rid of dry mouth requires first identifying the underlying cause. A dentist can help you do this by discussing your health and lifestyle with you, as well as evaluating your oral health and medical history. Once you’ve determined the possible cause, you can begin to treat it and get rid of your dry mouth.
Treatment for your dry mouth will depend on the potential causes that you and your dentist have identified. Here are some examples.
If you breathe through your mouth at night, either due to habit or because of a physical reason, try nasal strips. These can pull your nasal passages open, providing you with enough air that you may feel comfortable closing your mouth and breathing through your nose. If your nose isn’t the issue, consider a humidifier in the room to make open-mouthed breathing less taxing on your oral cavity. Make sure to stay hydrated throughout the day as well, because your body will use a lot of water overnight to recover.
If your dry mouth is caused by medication, consult with your prescriber to see if another alternative is available. Sometimes, different brands or compositions of the same prescription can result in different physical reactions; even something like the binding material that makes your medicine into a pill shape could be the culprit.
If your dry mouth is persistent but can’t be linked directly to a cause, synthetic saliva is available. Most mixtures will come as a powder, which you then mix with water and swish just like mouthwash. Artificial saliva is not meant to be swallowed, and once you have swished it for the allotted time, you can spit it out. Not only does artificial saliva help to moisten your mouth, but it also creates a protective film that slows down how quickly your oral cavity dries out again—just like real saliva.
If you experience occasional dry mouth, consider chewing on sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free candy or ice. These actions stimulate the natural production of saliva and can be more effective in those whose dry mouth is related to a physical challenge with the function of their salivary glands.
One of the best things that you can do to prevent dry mouth–and improve your overall health–is to maintain a good oral hygiene routine. This includes brushing and flossing twice a day and using mouthwash. (When picking a mouthwash, make sure that it’s alcohol-free; alcohol evaporates quickly and can leech moisture from your mouth.) Drink plenty of water and avoid smoking and excessive alcohol and caffeine, all of which can exacerbate any symptoms.
Although very treatable, dry mouth will almost never go away until you address the underlying issue. If you don’t treat dry mouth, it can lead to other more serious problems and long-term side effects like mouth infections (thrush), tooth decay, and gum disease
Good oral health requires good oral care, and at Dental Depot in Arizona, we’re dedicated to helping you and your family maintain the best oral health possible. From routine dental cleanings and checkups to treatments for sleep apnea and dry mouth, Dental Depot in Arizona offers all the services you need to enjoy a healthy, happy smile.
You don’t have to deal with dry mouth. With multiple offices across the state, there’s a Dental Depot location near you. Take charge of your oral health and schedule an appointment today!