Dry mouth or xerostomia is a condition in which a person does not have enough saliva in the mouth, and as a result, the mouth is unusually dry. Saliva is essential to keep the mouth moist and clean. It also stimulates digestion and prevents bacterial and fungal infections. Dry mouth can be a sign of certain diseases, and if left untreated, can lead to serious health complications.
The common causes of dry mouth are:
- Certain medications like antihistamines, tricyclic antidepressants, anti-epileptics, antipsychotics, beta-blockers and diuretics.
- Diseases including HIV/AIDS, Sjogren’s syndrome, cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, anaemia, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke, Parkinson’s disease and mumps
- Breathing through the mouth due to a blocked nose or other reasons
- Radiotherapy and chemotherapy
- Dehydration due to vomiting, diarrhoea and excessive sweating
- Nerve damage in the head and neck region due to injury or surgery
- Smoking and chewing tobacco
The common symptoms of dry mouth are:
- Dry feeling in mouth and throat
- Tendency of the tongue to stick to the roof of the mouth
- Frequent feeling of thirst
- Mouth ulcers and cracked lips
- Burning or tingling sensation on the tongue
- Bad breath
- Hoarseness and sore throat
- Thick saliva
Dry mouth can also cause complications like tooth decay, mouth infection, difficulty chewing, tasting and swallowing food, and difficulty speaking.
When you present with the symptoms of dry mouth, your doctor will review your medical history for medical conditions and treatments, and conduct a physical analysis. Your doctor may also perform an examination of the teeth to identify a pattern of tooth decay, and conduct saliva tests.
Treatment for dry mouth is based on the cause.
Non-surgical method: The conventional method of treating dry mouth is to drink lots of water, suck ice cubes, chew sugar-free gum and maintain good dental hygiene by brushing your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste. Physicians may prescribe antibiotics and anti-fungal drugs if the cause of dry mouth is diagnosed due to infection. Artificial saliva substitutes and saliva stimulants available over-the-counter can also help. Your doctor may change or reduce the dose of medicine which is causing dry mouth or treat the underlying condition.
Surgical method: A calcified structure called a salivary gland stone may cause blockages in the salivary glands, preventing the normal secretion of saliva, which can in turn cause dry mouth. These stones can be surgically removed under local or general anaesthesia to facilitate normal secretion of saliva.
Dry mouth can be prevented by the following measures:
- Eating foods that require a lot of chewing
- Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids
- Avoid cigarettes, alcohol, spicy food and caffeinated drinks
- Visit your dentist regularly and maintain good oral hygiene
- Use an air humidifier while sleeping
- Chew sugar free gum often