Overview of dry mouth
Fear, anxiety or nervousness is common scenarios when one experiences dry mouth. However, if one experiences dry mouth at all times, it means there is something wrong with their health. Medically, abnormal dryness of the mouth due to decrease in saliva, it is called as xerostomia. This is a Greek term, where ‘xero’ means dry and stoma means mouth. This condition occurs when the production of saliva stops or is reduce that helps keep the mouth wet and moist. Many know this condition by its common names such as cottonmouth, pasties, etc. Malfunction in the salivary glands leads to dry mouth.
Saliva is very important as it not only helps keep the mouth moist, but also has many different functions within the body. It contains enzymes that help in digestion. Saliva also helps in controlling the growth of bacteria and thus prevent oral decay. It is also very important for chewing food, swallowing as well as to speak.
When the salivary glands stop functioning normally, it indicates the presence of an underlying disease. Dry mouth is a not a normal part of ageing, although it is commonly seen in the elderly. However, medical attention is required when the condition leads to problems such as swallowing, speaking or even choking.
What Causes Dry Mouth?
- Dry mouth can also be a side effect seen after taking certain medications. These drugs include many prescription and non-prescription medications. Drugs that lead to dry mouth include: Decongestants, Antihistamines, Bronchodilators, Diuretics, Medications for nausea, obesity, blood pressure, Muscle relaxants, Tranquilizers, etc.
- Apart from medications, many medical treatments too lead to dry mouth. These treatments include chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
- Any injury to the brain, spine or nerves can cause the salivary glands to decrease production of saliva.
- Smoking or chewing tobacco can also lead to dry mouth.
- Excessive body heat or dehydration can also cause one to suffer dryness in the mouth.
- In some cases, tiny minerals form a stone and causes salivary duct obstruction.
What are the Symptoms of Dry Mouth?
The signs and symptoms of dry mouth are as follows:
- The decrease in production of saliva tends to make it very thick. The saliva may also turn ropy and foamy.
- The lack of saliva causes the tongue to turn dry. This in turn causes cracks or fissures on the tongue. It also makes the tongue prone to fungal and yeast infections. It may also tend to stick to the roof of the mouth.
- The inner sides of the cheeks feel very dry and become prone to sores or ulcers.
- The lips become cracked and chapped. This makes them bleed at times and turn painful.
- Lack of saliva causes bad breath. The mouth becomes very sensitive to hot, spicy as well as spicy foods. Thus, one suffers from extensive burning sensation in the mouth.
- Swallowing of foods also becomes difficult. The person suffers from change in taste.
- Bacterial infection causes oral caries as well as other dental problems.
Diagnosing Dry Mouth
The diagnosis of dry mouth is carried out by physical examination of the mouth. The cheeks that appear rough, dry and scaly indicate dry mouth. The doctor may also check for tooth decay and take a medical history to check for underlying disease. A saliva tests may be carried out to check the functioning of the salivary glands.
Treatment for Dry Mouth
After diagnosing the cause of dry mouth, the doctor may suggest a specific treatment. If certain medications are causing dry mouth, he may suggest a change of drug or dosage. Malfunctioning salivary glands will be treated by increasing the production of saliva with use of certain medications like cevimeline or pilocarpine.
One should also try some preventive remedies to reduce the occurrence of dry mouth. Consider the use of fluoride toothpaste or rinse to help decrease tooth decay and reduce bacterial infections. Chewing sugar-free gum also helps keeps the mouth moist. One should avoid eating spicy foods, caffeinated drinks, as well as sugary foods. Stop smoking as well as chewing tobacco. One should sleep with a humidifier at night to increase moisture in the air. Avoid breathing through the mouth and use your nose instead.
Dry mouth is an irritating condition that should be prevented and treated as soon as possible. Speak to your health care provider for more details regarding dry mouth or xerostomia.
Written by: Healthplus24 team
Date last updated: September 10, 2012