If you suffer from dry mouth, then you’re all too familiar with the thick, sticky, hoarse feeling in your mouth. It’s not just morning breath, but chronic dry mouth that plagues you all day and night.
This condition, known officially as xerostomia, can be frustrating and embarrassing. By learning more about this condition and its underlying causes, you can take control of your oral health and banish xerostomia for good.
Saliva Keeps Your Mouth Moist
You have three main salivary glands and hundreds of minor salivary glands that are responsible for producing saliva in your mouth. Saliva is usually underappreciated, but it’s far more than just “spit”. In fact, saliva serves such important purposes that it’s one of the cornerstones of strong oral health.
First, saliva neutralizes acids in the mouth. Sources of sugars and carbohydrates like soda and cookies create acid around the teeth and gums. Saliva washes over the mouth to continually dilute those harmful acids and protect the mouth from erosion and decay. Without this function, bacteria and acids would be able to quickly attach to the teeth and gums and cause significant damage.
In addition, saliva washes away food debris, bacteria, and other lingering toxins. It keeps the mouth moist and hydrated, even while eating dry foods or exercising. Of course, saliva is also responsible for breaking food down with enzymes and carrying it from the mouth to the gut.
What Disrupts Saliva Production?
Anything that disrupts saliva production has the potential to cause the condition of dry mouth.
In some cases, dry mouth is a temporary issue that can be easily solved by drinking more water. Xerostomia caused by dehydration is most commonly seen in athletes, public speakers, and others who must go long periods of time without taking a drink of water.
However, xerostomia can also become a chronic condition that drinking water alone can’t solve. These are the most common causes of limited saliva production that lead to chronic dry mouth:
- Medications, especially antihistamines, antidepressants, and decongestants
- Cancer treatments like radiation therapy and chemotherapy, which both alter the nature and production of saliva
- Use of tobacco
- Sleep apnea
- Rheumatoid arthritis and other connective tissue diseases
Signs and Symptoms of Dry Mouth
There are many different symptoms associated with dry mouth. However, since many of these symptoms are also connected with other oral conditions, it’s important to let your dentist know as soon as you suspect chronic xerostomia.
Remain alert for these possible dry mouth indications:
- Chronic bad breath
- Cracked lips and inner cheeks
- Difficulty tasting foods
- Pain and inflammation on the tongue
- Frequent tooth decay
- Trouble speaking, swallowing and chewing
- The feeling of sticky or stringy saliva
Fortunately, you’re not forced to live with these symptoms for the rest of your life. There are many steps you can take at home and with your dentist to eliminate xerostomia complications and prevent the condition from reoccurring in the future.
DIY Tips For Dry Mouth
Many people can successfully tackle dry mouth by making simple changes to their daily routine. Give these DIY tips a try to encourage saliva production:
- Drink more water instead of carbonated or high-sugar drinks
- Chew gum containing xylitol
- Avoid mouthwash with alcohol
- Eat crunchy foods like carrots, celery, apples, almonds
- Place a humidifier in your bedroom
- Avoid dry and spicy foods
- Limit alcohol and caffeine consumption
Adapting just two or three of these strategies into your lifestyle could make all the difference!
How a Dentist Can Treat Dry Mouth
If home care tips fail to alleviate your worst dry mouth symptoms, it’s time to call your dentist. Even though xerostomia itself isn’t a dangerous disease, it’s a sign of underlying oral health trauma that must be addressed before complications develop. Left untreated for a long period of time, xerostomia may lead to advanced gum disease, tooth decay, tooth loss, and mouth sores.
Your dentist will examine your mouth for signs of xerostomia and possibly perform blood tests and imaging scans of the salivary glands to properly diagnose the underlying cause of your dry mouth. These tests could include:
- Sialometry, a simple procedure to measure the rate of saliva flow
- Saliography, an x-ray to examine all salivary glands and ducts
- Biopsy, a small sample of salivary gland tissue to test for disease
The xerostomia treatment recommended by your dentist is determined by your diagnosis. For example, dry mouth caused by a salivary gland tumor will be treated differently than dry mouth caused by hormonal fluctuations. These are a few of the possible treatments you can expect:
- Switch to a different medication that doesn’t cause the side effect of xerostomia
- Use prescription mouth rinse, artificial saliva, or other mouth moisturizers
- Take prescription medication to stimulate saliva production
- Protect your teeth from decay with fluoride trays
The team at Vista Dental Care and Specialty Center is here to help you with dry mouth and any other oral health concerns you may have. Call our office at (760) 630-5000 to learn more and schedule an appointment.