Dry Mouth Causes and Treatment Options

21 Dec
Up close dry mouth photo

What is Dry Mouth?

Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is a condition in which the salivary glands in the mouth do not produce enough saliva. This lack of saliva can lead to a number of oral health problems, including cavities, bad breath, and periodontal disease. In this blog post, we'll take a closer look at the causes, symptoms, and remedies for dry mouth.

Oral Health Complications from Dry Mouth

What Causes Dry Mouth?

One of the most common causes of dry mouth is medication. Many different types of drugs, including antidepressants, antihistamines, muscle relaxants, pain medications and decongestants, can cause dry mouth as a side effect. This is because these medications can interfere with the production of saliva in the salivary glands.

Other causes of dry mouth include dehydration, certain immune or medical conditions (such as diabetes and Sjogren's syndrome), and radiation therapy to the head and neck. Smoking and alcohol consumption can also contribute to dry mouth.

What Are the Symptoms of Dry Mouth?

If you have dry mouth, you may experience a number of symptoms including a sticky or dry feeling in the mouth, dry and cracked lips, high rate of tooth decay, difficulty speaking or swallowing, bad breath, a rough, dry tongue and sometimes a burning sensation in the mouth.

Why Is Dry Mouth a Problem?

Dry mouth can lead to bad breath and an increased risk of cavities and periodontal disease. The lack of saliva in the mouth can create an environment that is conducive to the growth of bacteria. Without enough saliva to wash away bacteria and food debris, they can build up on the teeth and gums, leading to the formation of plaque and tartar.

Why is Saliva Important for Oral Health?

Saliva plays a crucial role in maintaining the health of the gums and teeth.

Saliva contains enzymes that help to break down the bacterial biofilms that can cause periodontal disease. Without enough saliva, these biofilms can grow unchecked, leading to inflammation and infection in the gums. Saliva contains proteins and other nutrients that are essential for wound healing and tissue repair. Without enough saliva, the gums may not be able to heal properly after being damaged by bacteria or other irritants. This can lead to the development of advanced gum disease.

Just like with periodontal disease, the enzymes in saliva help to break down the sugars and starches that can lead to tooth decay. Without enough saliva, these harmful substances can build up on the teeth, increasing the risk of cavities.

Dry Mouth and Tooth Decay

Saliva helps keep the mouth at a neutral pH, which is important for preventing the development of cavities. When the mouth becomes too acidic, the enamel on the teeth can begin to dissolve, making the teeth more susceptible to decay. Without enough saliva to balance the pH in the mouth, the enamel can become weakened and more likely to develop cavities.

Dry mouth can also make it difficult for the mouth to repair itself, increasing the risk of cavities and perio by interfering with the mouth's ability to wash away food debris and bacteria. Thus creating a favorable environment for bacteria and impairing  the body's ability to fight infection disrupting the balance of the mouth's pH.

Care and Treatments for Dry Mouth

There are a number of remedies for dry mouth, including drinking plenty of water, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, avoiding acidic, spicy, salty, dry and sugary foods and beverages. You can try using a humidifier to add moisture to the air and also try chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free hard candies that contain xylitol to stimulate the production of saliva.

Fortunately, there are a number of products on the market that can help to relieve dry mouth. These include saliva substitutes, mouthwashes, and sprays that can help to moisten the mouth and stimulate saliva production. For example, the brand Biotène® comes as a mouth rinse, gel, and toothpaste to help relieve dry mouth. There are also dry mouth relief lozenges and tablets.

If you are taking medication that causes dry mouth, talk to your doctor about switching to a different medication or adjusting the dosage. In some cases, your doctor may be able to prescribe medication specifically to help with dry mouth:

  • Cevimeline (Evoxac®) to treat dry mouth in people with Sjogren’s syndrome.
  • Pilocarpine (Salagen®) to increase your natural saliva production.

Researchers are continuing to work on ways to repair damaged salivary glands. They are also developing an artificial salivary gland that can be implanted into the body.

Overall, dry mouth can cause cavities, bad breath, and periodontal disease. It is often caused by medication, but can also be the result of dehydration, certain medical conditions, and lifestyle factors. To relieve dry mouth, drink plenty of water, avoid alcohol and caffeine, and use a humidifier. You can also try using saliva substitutes, mouthwashes, and sprays to help moisturize the mouth.

Key Points About Dry Mouth

  • Dry mouth is a condition in which the salivary glands in the mouth do not produce enough saliva.
  • Lack of saliva can lead to cavities, bad breath, and periodontal disease.
  • Common causes of dry mouth include medication, dehydration, certain medical conditions, and radiation therapy.
  • Symptoms of dry mouth include a sticky or dry feeling in the mouth, difficulty speaking or swallowing and a burning sensation in the mouth.
  • Remedies for dry mouth include drinking plenty of water, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, and using a humidifier.
  • Products such as saliva substitutes, mouthwashes, and sprays can also help to relieve dry mouth.
  • If you are taking medication that causes dry mouth, talk to your doctor about switching to a different medication or adjusting the dosage.

Need to Find Relief from Dry Mouth?

If you experience any of the symptoms of dry mouth discussed in this post, please schedule an appointment online or give us a call so we can have a closer look and determine if your symptoms are the result of dry mouth and help you discover the underlying causes of your dry mouth. If left untreated, dry mouth can cause several significant oral health complications. Whether you are trying to eliminate the source of your dry mouth yourself or need a little help figuring it out, it is important to seek treatment and keep your mouth moist and healthy to maintain good oral and overall health.

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Aleta Smith

Aleta is a laser certified dental hygienist extraordinaire who loves helping her patients keep their teeth clean and healthy. She is passionate about educating and informing patients about latest dental hygiene advancements and being with them through every step of their journey to optimal oral health.