The fancy word for “dry mouth” is xerostomia, and this is a condition that’s characterized by a lack of saliva throughout the mouth. Basically, the salivary glands stop producing the normal amount of saliva, leaving the mouth dry and uncomfortable.
On top of the discomfort it causes, dry mouth could also increase your risk of developing gum disease, tooth decay, and oral infections, so it’s important to address this problem with your dentist. Having an understanding of the cause of your dry mouth is the first step in figuring out what treatment options will work best to relieve it and prevent other ailments.
What Could Cause Your Mouth to Go Dry?
- Medications: Certain prescription and over-the-counter medications list dry mouth as a side effect. Remedies for everything from anxiety, depression, pain, acne, hypertension, nausea, and diarrhea, to urinary incontinence, psychotic disorders, asthma, obesity, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s disease could cause dry mouth. Wow, that’s a lot! But it doesn’t end there. Even antihistamines and decongestants designed to treat allergies and colds could cause the saliva production in your mouth to decrease. And dry mouth could also be caused by sedatives and muscle relaxants. So if you need to take any type of medication, search through the list of side effects and, if dry mouth is one of them, you can take steps to prevent it or at least relieve it if it occurs.
- Medical Treatments: Certain medical treatments could cause damage to your salivary glands, restricting the amount of saliva that they can produce. Yikes! Aside from the surgical removal of the glands, chemotherapy and radiation are a couple of examples of treatments that can harm them.
- Infections, Diseases, and Other Medical Conditions: There are many medical conditions that could include dry mouth as a symptom. A few examples include stroke, hypertension, Parkinson’s disease, mumps, rheumatoid arthritis, anemia, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, HIV/AIDS, Sjögren's syndrome, and Alzheimer’s disease. And if you suffer from nerve damage in the area of your neck or head, you could also develop dry mouth.
- Dehydration: If you are dehydrated for any reason, whether you sweat excessively, are experiencing diarrhea or vomiting, have lost blood or been burned, or you have a fever, dry mouth could be a side effect. Just another reason to drink plenty of water every day.
- Unhealthy Habits: Your daily lifestyle and habits could have an impact on your salivary glands and the moisture within your mouth. If you chew tobacco or smoke, the risk of dry mouth increases, or you could aggravate the condition if it is already present. So go ahead and kick those bad habits for good!
- Breathing Troubles: If you have ongoing sinus problems, it’s best to have them addressed by your doctor promptly, especially if you find yourself breathing through your mouth. Inhaling and exhaling through the mouth will dry out your saliva, so focus on breathing through your nose.
- Aging: Getting older isn’t any fun (at least for most people), and you can add dry mouth to the list of problems that you might encounter as you age. This is simply because your salivary glands may not work as well as they did when you were younger, and that could leave your mouth feeling parched.
Tackling Dry Mouth from Three Angles
When it comes to treating dry mouth, experts recommend taking a multi-angle approach.
- First, the goal is to figure out what underlying conditions might be causing your dry mouth. With the appropriate treatments, the causes can effectively be managed or cured.
- On top of managing the underlying causes, your dentist can also work with you to prevent tooth decay. He or she might recommend taking extra steps, such as brushing your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste more often than twice a day. It might be necessary, for example, to brush after each meal. You might also need to floss your teeth daily if you aren’t doing that already, as well as use a fluoride gel or rinse daily. Remember, when you have dry mouth, fluoride is your friend.
- Finally, you can work on taking steps to increase the flow of saliva to get much-needed relief. You might have to use an over-the-counter spray or rinse that acts as artificial saliva to moisten the mouth. Or your dentist might give you a prescription for a product like Salagen, which is able to increase your body’s natural saliva production.
Surprisingly Simple Ways to Relieve Dry Mouth at Home
In addition to consulting with your dentist to find the cause and access the ideal treatment for your dry mouth, you can also take a few simple steps every day to restore moisture:
- Say no to caffeine and alcohol. Okay, we know this one’s tough for a lot of people, but ditching caffeine, or at least limiting your intake, could help your mouth feel better. The same goes for alcohol like red wine, which can remove moisture from the mouth.
- Chew on sugar-free candy or sugar-free gum. When you chew gum or suck on candy, you could improve saliva flow and relieve dry mouth. Sugar-free is the way to go to prevent cavities.
- Use the right mouthwash. Not all mouthwashes are created equal. Stick with those that contain ingredients, such as xylitol, that will help combat dry mouth, and avoid those that contain alcohol.
- Invest in a room humidifier. Is your mouth dry and your throat sore in the morning? Boosting the moisture in the air within your home, especially in your bedroom at night, might help your mouth retain the moisture it needs to feel comfortable.
Talk to Your Doctor, but Also See Your Dentist
If your dry mouth is a side effect of a medication or treatment that your doctor has prescribed, talk to him or her about your options, as you might be able to switch to something that won’t decrease your saliva production. And if that’s not possible, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter or prescription remedies that you can try.
Beyond consulting with your doctor, experts recommend seeing your dentist at least two times a year. You can have a complete checkup and cleaning that will help prevent a variety of gum and dental problems, especially if you suffer with dry mouth. So be sure to book those appointments so your mouth can be happy!