Persistent dry mouth is known in the medical community as xerostomia and is the result of an insufficient flow of saliva within the mouth. Xerostomia is not a disease within itself but is typically a symptom of a medical condition or a side effect of some prescription medications, most commonly decongestants, pain killers, diuretics, and antihistamines.
What Causes Dry Mouth?
When the salivary glands in the mouth fail to produce an adequate amount of saliva to keep the mouth wet, this results in chronic dry mouth. These glands may be underproducing saliva for a variety of reasons, but the most common causes of this are:
Medication Side Effects – Dry mouth is a very common side effect of hundreds of different medications available, both prescription and over-the-counter. Some of the medications that are most likely to cause dry mouth as a side effect are those used to treat high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression as well as such medications as antihistamines, muscle relaxants, decongestants, and pain medications.
Advancing Age – It is common for older people to experience increasing levels of dry mouth as they age. Some of the factors that can contribute to this are the use of some medications, changes in the ability of the body to process these medications, nutritional deficiencies, and long-term health conditions.
Cancer Treatment – The nature and amount of saliva that is produced can be changed or affected by chemotherapy drugs. In most cases, this is temporary and the production and flow of saliva return to normal once the treatment has been completed. Undergoing radiation treatment to the head and/or neck can cause damage to the salivary glands which can also significantly decrease saliva production. This damage can sometimes be permanent which depends on the dose of radiation and the area of the body that is being treated.
Nerve Damage – Sometimes, surgery, trauma, or damage to the nerves in the head or neck can cause persistent dry mouth.
Other Health or Medical Conditions – Some of the most common health conditions that cause dry mouth are strokes, thrush (yeast infection), diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease, or autoimmune diseases such as HIV/AIDS or Sjogren’s Syndrome.
Open Mouth Breathing – Snoring or breathing through the mouth can also cause persistent dry mouth.
Alcohol and Tobacco Use – Consuming alcohol, and chewing or smoking tobacco can exacerbate dry mouth symptoms.
Use of Recreational Drugs – Drugs such as Methamphetamine and Marijuana use can cause significant dry mouth and methamphetamine can also cause damage to the teeth.
What Problems Can Dry Mouth Cause?
Saliva is an essential defense for the mouth against tooth decay. It also works to maintain the health of the hard and soft tissues within the mouth. Saliva works by rinsing away any food particles or other debris and neutralizing acids that are produced by the bacteria within the mouth. Saliva also produces disease-fighting substances throughout the mouth and offers frontline protection against the invasion of bacteria or bacterial overgrowth that can lead to disease.
A few of the most common issues related to dry mouth include chronic sore throat, frequent burning sensation in the throat and/or mouth, difficulty speaking and swallowing, hoarseness, or loss of voice.
Without the appropriate amount of saliva, food, bacteria, and debris are not efficiently removed from the mouth and as a result, extensive tooth decay can occur.
How Can Dry Mouth be Treated?
The way that dry mouth is treated depends on the underlying cause of this symptom. Your doctor or dentist may recommend one (or several) of the following:
Change Medications – If it is believed that medication is the cause they may suggest altering the dosage of the medication or trying another medication altogether that does not cause persistent dry mouth.
Moisturizing Products – There are many products that are available both over the counter and by prescription that help to increase the amount of moisture in the mouth. Mouthwashes, artificial saliva, chewing of certain gums, and oral mouth rinses can help to increase saliva production and reduce or eliminate dry mouth. Some of these products can also offer protection for the teeth against decay.
Protect your Teeth – In some cases, your dentist may recommend at-home fluoride treatments to offer further protection for your teeth against decay caused by dry mouth. They will fit you with custom trays that you fill with a fluoride solution and wear at night. Your dentist may also recommend a chlorhexidine rinse to be used weekly to prevent cavities.
Dry mouth is not only an annoying and frustrating thing to experience, but it can also have serious repercussions for the health and condition of your teeth and mouth. If you want to learn more about the causes and treatments available for dry mouth and how we can help to optimize your oral health and wellness, contact our Guelph Dentist’s office today!