Everyone has experienced a dry mouth at some point in their lives. Occasional dry mouth isn’t a problem, but when it becomes a recurring issue, it may be indicative of certain oral health conditions and even cause other complications. Keep reading to learn about the causes, treatments, and prevention of dry mouth.
What Causes Dry Mouth?
At its core, mouth dryness, also known as xerostomia, is caused by an inadequate flow of saliva. When you have a dry mouth, in addition to feeling as if your mouth doesn’t have enough saliva, you may experience bad breath, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness, increased thirst, a dry feeling in your nose, trouble eating or speaking, and issues with wearing dentures.
While dry mouth itself is not a disease, it can be a symptom of a disorder or a side effect of a medication. The following things can cause you to experience mouth dryness:
- Mouth breathing: If you breathe through your mouth at night due to a stuffy nose or deviated septum, your mouth may dry out.
- Medical conditions: You may experience mouth dryness as a symptom of many different medical conditions. These conditions include diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and stroke. Additionally, an autoimmune disorder occurring mostly in post-menopausal women called Sjogren’s syndrome causes the body to attack the glands that produce moisture, leading to an insufficient supply of saliva in the mouth.
- Medications: Many medications can cause mouth dryness as a side effect, including antianxiety or antidepressant drugs, anticholinergics (drugs that treat incontinence, overactive bladder, and COPD), antihistamines, decongestants, pain medicine, and drugs treating high blood pressure or Parkinson’s disease.
- Dehydration: If your body lacks enough fluids, your mouth will not be able to produce sufficient saliva. Dehydration may occur if you haven’t had enough water, are sick, or have been sweating excessively.
- Chemo and radiation therapy: If you’re undergoing treatment for cancer, you may experience dryness in your mouth.
What Are the Risks of Dry Mouth?
Saliva is an important factor in keeping the mouth and teeth healthy because it rinses away harmful bacteria. Dry mouth may be an occasional nuisance for most people, but if you consistently experience a lack of saliva, other complications may arise, including cavities, tooth decay, tartar, and plaque buildup.
How Do You Treat Dry Mouth?
Because mouth dryness is often a symptom of other conditions, treatment may vary depending on the root cause. However, whatever the cause, the goal of dry mouth treatment is to manage the underlying condition, increase saliva flow, and prevent tooth decay.
To treat mouth dryness, your healthcare provider will review any medications you take and evaluate the possibility of changing to a different medication that will not cause your mouth to dry out. They may also prescribe medication to treat the dry mouth and increase saliva production.
You can also treat mouth dryness at home. Chewing and sucking help stimulate saliva production, so try sucking on ice cubes, popsicles, or hard candy. Chewing gum and sipping water may also help. However, be careful with your sugar intake, since people with dry mouths are more likely to develop cavities and tooth decay. Look for sugar-free candy and gum whenever possible.
Over-the-counter products such as artificial saliva, specially-formulated toothpaste, and mouthwash can help treat mouth dryness. Lip balm and cool-mist humidifiers may also provide some relief.
If you experience mouth dryness, you should be extra vigilant about your oral health. Regular exams and cleanings can help prevent you from developing cavities and tooth decay caused by insufficient saliva.
Can Dry Mouth Be Prevented?
You may not be able to prevent all causes of mouth dryness, but certain actions and behaviors may reduce your risk of dry mouth and its complications.
Drink plenty of water — about eight glasses per day — and avoid caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol, which are known to cause dehydration. To prevent mouth dryness at night, try putting a cool-mist humidifier in your bedroom. If you can, avoid taking over-the-counter medications known to cause dry mouth, such as antihistamines and decongestants. Ask your doctor if there are alternatives to these medications that may work better for you.
All-Around Dental Care from Eric Felt DDS
At the office of Dr. Eric Felt, we pride ourselves on providing the very best dental care to all our patients. We offer general, family, and pediatric dentistry treatments, as well as cosmetic and restorative procedures. Our team is committed to ensuring you and your family have good all-around oral health and a sparkling smile. Request an appointment today!