Dry mouth or xerostomia is a term used to describe the absence or reduced flow of saliva. This is a very uncomfortable condition as saliva plays a very important role having many functions:
- Acts as a cleansing agent
- Contains digestive enzymes, thus aids in digestion
- Has antibacterial action
- Provides lubrication
Causes of dry mouth
- A variety of medicine causes dry mouth as a side effect. These include decongestants and antihistamines used to treat allergies and colds; sedatives and muscle relaxants. Bronchodilators used in the treatment of asthma, diuretics. Other drugs used to treat depression, Parkinsonism, diarrhea and nausea also have a similar effect.
- Dry mouth is a common manifestation in people suffering from AIDS, mumps, Alzheimer’s disease, Sjogren’s syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, anemia, stroke and hypertension.
- Xerostomia is a common feature in patients who have undergone chemotherapy and radiation for head and neck cancers. This occurs when the salivary glands which produce saliva are damaged.
- Also occurs when the salivary glands are removed as in case of cancer etc and dry mouth results.
- Nerve damage to those supplying the salivary glands can result in xerostomia.
- Certain conditions such as vomiting, diarrhea, and fever, loss of blood, burn injuries, and heavy sweating can cause dehydration of the body leading to dry mouth.
- Habits such as smoking, tobacco chewing, open-mouthed breathing also leads to dry mouth.
Features of xerostomia
- Constant thirst
- A parched, dry feeling in the mouth
- Mouth sores, cracked lips and cracking at the corners of the mouth.
- Burning sensation
- Dry throat
- A dry, red tongue
- Sore throat / dry nasal passage
- Difficulty in phonation, mastication and ingestion of food
- Foul odor from the mouth
Dry mouth causes increased risk of developing infections such as candidiasis and also predisposes to dental caries and gingivitis. Wearing dentures becomes a difficult task.
Treatment of Dry Mouth
It is best to treat the cause of xerostomia rather than its symptoms.
If you are taking any medication which causes dry mouth or feel your mouth to be dry after starting a new drug then report to your doctor who can give you alternatives or reduce the dosage to resolve the problem.
Oral rinses are prescribed for relief from symptoms of dry mouth. Commonly prescribed is “salagen” which is effective in increasing salivary production. “Biotene” dry mouth products are also available as mouth washes, toothpaste, mouth sprays etc. they contain an enzyme and protein system that supplements saliva’s natural defenses.
Some home remedies are of the following:
- Chewing sugar-free candy or gum
- Drinking large quantities of water
- Keeping the mouth closed
- Using vaporizers that moisturize the air
- Using fluoride toothpaste and mouth rinse to help prevent the incidence of caries.
- Salivary substitutes
- Regular visits to the dentist.