20 Aug 2014
August 20, 2014

Dry Mouth: Causes and Effects

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Xerostomia, better known as dry mouth, is an uncomfortable ailment that can range from a minor annoyance to a serious condition. Dry mouth can be caused by a variety of issues, so its treatment largely depends on the underlying cause. Dry mouth may not seem particularly serious, but it can have acute consequences for your oral health if it is not dealt with as soon as possible.

dry mouth

Here are some frequently asked questions about the causes and effects of dry mouth, which should be able to guide you in the right direction if you suspect that you are suffering from the condition.

What is dry mouth?

It’s all in the name. Dry mouth is a condition where the mouth becomes unusually dry, usually due to decreased saliva production in the mouth. Saliva, or spit, helps to break down food in the mouth and also helps to lubricate food as it passes into the esophagus on its way to the stomach. A healthy mouth should be constantly producing a small amount of saliva in order to keep your oral cavity moist and comfortable, and should increase your saliva production just before and while you eat. Saliva also protects from tooth decay and controls bacteria in your mouth. Without saliva, it can be difficult to swallow or even speak.

What are the symptoms of dry mouth?

The symptoms of dry mouth vary from person to person, but a sufferer will usually have some or all of the following symptoms:

  • A dry, parched mouth or oral cavity
  • Constant feeling of thirst
  • Sticky, thick saliva
  • Bad breath
  • Sores and cracks inside the mouth, around the mouth and on the lips
  • Burning sensation in the mouth and/or on the tongue
  • Hoarseness and difficulty speaking
  • Difficulty swallowing or chewing
  • Tooth decay along the gumline of your teeth

What causes dry mouth?

Dry mouth is a condition with multiple causes, ranging from old age to drug abuse.

  • Side effect of medication: some medications can cause dry mouth as a direct or indirect side effect. Check the instructions on any medications you are taking and see if dry mouth is listed as a side effect. If it is, then it may be worth checking with your doctor to obtain a different medication.
  • Lifestyle: dry mouth is a common side effect of smoking, but the effects are usually temporary and will cease if one quits smoking. Dry mouth can also be a symptom of drug abuse, especially drugs that are smoked, like marijuana.
  • Nerve damage: injuring your head or neck can sometimes cause nerve damage that affects your saliva production.
  • Aging: As we grow older our salivary glands generally tend to produce less saliva.
  • Sjögren’s syndrome: this is an autoimmune condition where the body attacks glands that secrete fluid like the salivary glands and tear ducts. It is comparatively common, especially in women over 40.

What are the treatments for dry mouth?

Depending on the cause of your dry mouth, you may need treatment from a doctor, dentist, or possibly both. Generally, either a doctor or dentist can deal with short-term dry mouth, whereas long-term dry mouth should be managed and monitored by your dentist due to its negative effect on your overall oral health.

One can deal with dry mouth by treating the symptoms, treating the underlying condition, or both. Medications like pilocarpine hydrochloride can artificially stimulate saliva production, or certain behaviors like chewing gum, drinking lots of water and using a humidifier can manually increase your own saliva production. One can also treat any underlying causes by changing medications or altering your lifestyle.

How will dry mouth effect oral health in the long-term?

If your dry mouth cannot be dealt with by a short-term fix such as changing medications or changing your lifestyle, then you need to deal with the long-term effects that dry mouth will have on your oral health as well as treating the symptoms directly. Saliva has antiseptic properties (which is why you are sometimes directed to suck on a cut in order to clean it) so it plays a major role in keeping your mouth clean. A dry mouth is therefore extremely prone to many oral health conditions such as tooth decay and gingivitis—better known as gum disease. Dry mouth can also make it very difficult to wear dentures, as without lubrication your dentures may feel extremely painful and will not sit properly in your mouth. If this is the case, then you will need to make a dedicated long-term oral health plan with your dentist to combat common dry mouth side-effects like tooth decay and gum disease.

Are you or someone in your family experiencing dry mouth? Family Dental Care of Bellevue has been treating patients with dry mouth for over a decade. Get in touch today to schedule an appointment.

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