Remember when you were so scared and you had a dry mouth? Well, that’s not exactly what we’re talking about now. Your mouth dryness may be the same but from causes other than fear.
Dry mouth (xerostomia) is not considered to be a disease even though it can increase the risk of having some dental and buccal conditions. It is a condition in which the glands that produce saliva in your mouth fail to produce enough saliva to keep your mouth moist. It can happen due to many reasons ranging from medications, age, sleep habit or condition, and many other reasons.
After taking your time to read this article, you will understand what dry mouth (xerostomia) is. You will also know the causes of dry mouth, how you can prevent it, the treatment options that are available for xerostomia, and some self-care tips to bring the dryness in your mouth under control.
What is Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)?
To understand what dry mouth (xerostomia) is, you need to first, understand what produces the saliva in your mouth. Xerostomia and saliva production and presence in your mouth are interlinked. With the proper functioning of the salivary gland, there will be no dryness in the mouth.
The saliva in the mouth is produced by specialized exocrine glands, the three major ones positioned under the tongue (sublingual gland), under the mandible (submandibular gland), and behind the buccal cavity (parotid gland). Apart from these three major salivary glands, there are other minor salivary glands that also help to produce saliva.
Saliva is important as it helps to make mastication easy. Digestion begins from the mouth and the enzymes contained in saliva (amylase) aids in breaking down starch into maltose before it gets to the stomach. It also helps to maintain and promote dental health as it possesses antimicrobial properties. Consequently, it discourages the growth of bacteria that causes tooth decay. Also, it aids in promoting taste, repairing soft tissue in the mouth, and forms a pellicle that protects the teeth.
Dry mouth (xerostomia) is a condition that causes the salivary gland to produce an inadequate quantity of saliva and consequently, impacts all the functions of the saliva in the mouth. It can be a temporary occurrence or permanent, depending on the cause. As benign as this condition is, it can have a significant impact on the general well-being of an affected individual.
Causes of Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)
There are different reasons that dry mouth can arise in individuals. Some of them are a result of the reaction to certain drug constituents, while others are biologically related as dictated by age. Here are some of the known causes of dry mouth.
Drugs used for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy might cause a change in the nature and quantity of saliva they produce. The site of cancer also influences this cause. For instance, cancer growth that is found in the head and neck region may require radiation treatments that target these parts of the body. These treatments, due to the target region, may cause damage to the salivary glands.
The damage done may be temporary and reverse after treatment, depending on the dosage. However, it could also be permanent.
Some medications used to treat depression, anxiety, and high blood pressure may cause dry mouth (xerostomia). Some drugs that are available over the counter may also cause this as a side effect. Other medications that usually cause this condition are antihistamines, analgesics, sedatives, and decongestants. Here are the 13 Signs Of Depression And When To Seek Help
Tobacco and Alcohol
While tobacco and alcohol may not be primary causes of dry mouth (xerostomia), they make this condition worse in people who already have it. Smoking or sniffing tobacco makes saliva thick and stringy – one of the symptoms of dry mouth.
As the human body ages, it performs some functions less efficiently. As a result, it does not process some medications as fast as it used to, which may lead to dry mouth. Also, the existence of some long-term health conditions contributes to the less effectiveness of the salivary glands. Another possible reason attached to age is inadequate nutrition.
Health conditions such as diabetes, autoimmune diseases such as Sjorgen’s syndrome, stroke, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s, or even yeast infection in the mouth, can cause dry mouth (xerostomia).
Damage to the nerve around the head or neck due to an injury or surgery may cause dryness in the mouth.
Recreational drugs such as marijuana and methamphetamine can cause xerostomia. In fact, there is a condition that is common among meth users called “Meth Mouth”. It is characterized by dryness of the mouth and tooth damage.
Symptoms of Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)
Dry mouth (Xerostomia) seems like a symptom on its own. However, as a condition, there are signs that confirm the inadequacy of the salivary glands, thereby causing dry mouth. Some of the are:
- Halitosis (Bad breath)
- Thick and stringy saliva
- Change in the sense of taste
- The feeling of dryness or stickiness in the mouth
- Dry or grooved tongue
- Sore or hoarse throat
These symptoms arise when some factors (that will be discussed soon) affect the efficiency of the salivary glands.
Prevention of Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)
Dry Mouth (Xerostomia) can be a temporary condition in affected people. However, it can also be permanent and irreversible. To avoid the occurrence of dry mouth and the accompanying symptoms, here are some things you can do.
One of the reasons your mouth feels dry and your saliva thickens is the inadequate moisture in your body. During or after an intense exercise or sporting event, it is normal for the mouth to go dry as a result of moisture that has been lost as sweat. Therefore, take sips of water during your exercise and recreation to avoid dry mouth after the event.
Avoid breathing through your mouth
Some people breathe through their mouth while they sleep. This may be due to a sleep disorder called Sleep Apnea. One of the common symptoms of this disorder is dry mouth (xerostomia) after you wake in the morning.
To avoid dry mouth caused by this, get your sleep disorder treated.
Check your medications’ side effects
One of the major causes of dry mouth is medications. Since you cannot change the constituent ingredients of medications, you should choose medications that serve the same purpose but without the dry mouth (xerostomia) side effect.
Avoid the use of tobacco and alcohol
Tobacco and alcohol reduce the hydration level of your body. Lesser hydration level in the body leads to thick saliva and consequently, a dry mouth as the thick saliva cannot lubricate the mouth adequately.
Avoid recreational drugs
Recreational drugs, such as meth, are worse than alcohol and tobacco. They drastically drain your body of moisture, leaving you dehydrated and with a dry mouth.
Treatment of Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)
The treatment of dry mouth (xerostomia) is dependent on the cause of your dry mouth. Before a treatment type is started, your doctor will ascertain the cause of your xerostomia by reviewing your medical history to determine the types of medications and health conditions you have.
You might need to undergo some tests and scans for the same reason. Sometimes, your doctor might recommend a biopsy if he or she suspects that autoimmune disease may be the cause.
When all is done, your course of treatment might be any of the following:
This treatment is usually for xerostomia patients that need something to bring their salivary glands back into action through some kind of nudging. Medications such as Evoxac and Salagen are great options for this treatment.
Discontinue dry mouth-causing medication
Medications that cause dry mouth (xerostomia), such as antihistamines, may be discontinued to help your salivary glands return to their normal state of function.
Some products are available as over-the-counter mouth moisturizers or rinses. They help to lubricate and moisturize the mouth. Some of these products are artificial saliva, and they are usually used when the dry mouth (xerostomia) is permanent. Some mouthwashes, such as those containing xylitol, are effective in helping to moisturize the mouth.
Self-care Tips for dry Mouth (Xerostomia)
You can also easily help your mouth regain some moisture at home without resorting to medications. Follow these tips, and you might have better moisture content in your mouth. Some of these tips involve lifestyle changes, but for the better
Sips of water
This might seem obvious, but it is important that you constantly sip water throughout the day. This helps you to consistently hydrate your body and keeps your mouth moist.
Moisturize your room air
If the cause of your dry mouth is dry air in your room or because you breathe through your mouth when you sleep, you can add a humidifier to your room to make the air moist and help avert dry mouth when you wake.
Over-the-counter saliva imitations
Consider using saliva substitutes that are available over-the-counter.
Dry mouth (xerostomia) is a condition that is self-symptomatic in that it can be attributed to other health conditions such as diabetes, auto-immune diseases, and sleep disorder. However, it can cause dental problems as there will be no saliva to help rid the teeth of food remnants.
It is usually brought on due to the inactivity or ineffective production of saliva from the salivary glands.
Its treatment is dependent on its cause and the cause is usually found out thorough tests and scan.