What is Dry Mouth – Xerostomia?
Anything from insufficient water intake, nerves, and stress to excessive physical activity can make your mouth feel utterly parched. Such occasional dryness is hardly a cause of concern and can easily be corrected by an increased dose of water.
If, however, your mouth continues to feel dry as a desert regardless of your water intake, your salivary glands may not be functioning as well as they should.
Chronic dry mouth, medically known as xerostomia, is essentially a consequence of reduced salivary flow or a change in the composition of saliva.
Healthy, well-functioning salivary glands produce enough saliva to keep the mouth moist and comfortable. Besides its lubricating properties, saliva plays a key role in maintaining optimum oral health and in facilitating the digestion process.
The Importance of Saliva
Oral Health: Saliva washes over the soft and hard tissues in the mouth to form a protective film against ulcers, sores, and other frictional movements that accompany normal eating and speaking. It is also the first line of defense against bacterial, fungal, and viral threats that can lead to oral disease.
It works by neutralizing the acids produced by oral bacteria, deterring further microbial growth in the mouth, helping with teeth remineralization, and flushing away food particles and other debris to prevent plaque buildup.
For all its worth, however, the role of salivary flow in preventing gum disease and tooth decay is often undermined.
Digestion: Saliva helps with the breakdown of food in the mouth and has a fluid consistency that makes it easier for you to chew your food and swallow it. It even contains certain enzymes that help you stomach the food better. Thus, saliva assists with the digestion process every step of the way.
Another prized attribute of saliva is that it acts as a solvent for the taste stimuli, thereby enhancing a person’s ability to taste the food they consume.
Causes of Dry Mouth
Medications: Dry mouth is a common side effect of certain commonly used medications and supplements that are known to reduce the production of saliva.
There’s a long list of both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that can trigger this condition, including several antidepressants, diuretics, decongestants, NSAIDs, amphetamines such as Adderall, muscle relaxants, antidiarrheals, and meds for the treatment of high blood pressure, nerve pain (neuropathy), Parkinson’s disease, and anxiety, among others.
All in all, there are over 400 such drugs that tend to make your mouth dry for as long as they are being used, but the condition usually resolves once the medication is discontinued. Taking multiple medications on a daily basis, also known as polypharmacy, can also lead to dry mouth.
Other medical conditions: There are a number of health ailments that can affect the functioning of your salivary glands and trigger xerostomia as a side effect. These include diabetes, anxiety, anemia, oral thrush sarcoidosis, hypertension, mumps, cystic fibrosis, and autoimmune diseases such as Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and HIV/AIDS.
Neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease can leave the patient dehydrated, which can lead to dry mouth. Moreover, these conditions, as well as stroke, have all been associated with a false sense of a dry mouth despite properly functioning salivary glands.
Neuropathy: The nerves in your head and neck can become damaged either due to some form of traumatic injury or surgery, thereby diminishing your ability to perceive oral sensations. As a result, you may feel dryness in the mouth even though the salivary function is adequate.
Dehydration: Not drinking enough water on a regular basis and other factors that might contribute to dehydration such as excessive sweating, bouts of fever, vomiting, and diarrhea, as well as loss of blood and burns, can cause dry mouth.
Cancer treatment: People undergoing cancer treatment in the form of chemotherapy or radiation therapy are also at an increased risk of dry mouth. The drugs used in chemotherapy can alter the nature and volume of the saliva produced for as long as the treatment continues.
Radiation to the head or neck can end up damaging the salivary glands, resulting in a significant decrease in saliva production.
Aging: People tend to become more susceptible to dry mouth with advancing age on account of several contributing factors. In general, older adults are prone to extensive use of a wide range of medications, many of which are known to cause dry mouth.
Also, their body’s ability to process these drugs dwindles with age. Inadequate nutrition as well as preexisting health issues can also aggravate this condition.
Mental health: If you are prone to stress, anxiety, and depression, chances are you may develop dry mouth as a side effect.
Lifestyle factors: Unhealthy habits such as cigarette smoking, chewing tobacco, or drinking alcohol can impair salivary flow and contribute to dry mouth. Snoring with your mouth open can also lead to dry mouth.
The use of recreational drugs such as methamphetamine and marijuana. too, can dry out your mouth as well as damage your teeth. Excess amount of caffeine due to frequent intake of tea and coffee a day causes dehydration, resulting in dry mouth.
Pregnancy: Pregnant or breastfeeding mothers often experience dehydration and certain hormonal changes that make them increasingly prone to dry mouth.
Eating disorders: Bulimia and anorexia can increase your risk of developing xerostomia.
Sign and Symptoms of Dry Mouth
- Dry or sticky feeling in the mouth
- Burning feeling in mouth or tongue
- The tongue may become inflamed and sometimes feel leathery
- Discomfort while chewing or swallowing dry and crumbly foods
- Difficulty speaking
- Dry and sore throat
- Fissuring or splitting of the skin at the corners of the mouth
- Thick or stringy saliva
- White tongue, which may indicate a fungal infection
- Excessive thirst
- Mouth sores
- Glossodynia, or a painful tongue
- Bad breath
- Dry nasal passages
- Altered or diminished sense of taste
- Chapped or cracked lips
- Lipstick tends to stick to the teeth more often
In order to determine the cause of your dry mouth, your doctor or dentist will first closely review your medical history and the medications you are currently on. You will be asked to give a detailed description of your symptoms, which will be followed by a thorough physical examination.
The dentist will inspect the lips, tongue, and oral tissues in order to gauge the degree of dryness. The oral cavity will be closely examined for sores caused by the fungus Candida albicans as well as signs of cavities and gum disease. The doctor might assess the functioning of the main salivary glands and ducts to see if there are any obstructions and also measure the stimulated and unstimulated salivary flow.
By the end of the medical history and intraoral examination, your dentist is likely to pin down a particular culprit for your condition. However, in some cases, the doctor may conduct a few additional tests including blood sampling and imaging scans of your salivary glands to get a clearer picture.
- Because elderly people use medications more frequently than the younger populations, dry mouth remains an impending threat for the older demographic.
- There is a greater incidence of dry mouth cases among women than men.
- People who have suffered from extensive tooth decay are more likely to experience dry mouth.
- People with dry eyes, dry skin, rash, or joint pain are highly likely to develop dry mouth. This is summarized as Sjogren’s syndrome.
How Can I Treat Dry Mouth?
Dry mouth is not a disease by itself but symptomatic of some other issue at the base. Thus, the treatment for this condition depends upon the underlying cause.
If your dry mouth is stemming from another medical condition, it will require additional treatment to address the parent problem.
In a lot of cases, dry mouth occurs as a side effect of certain medications. If that is found to be the case, your pharmacist or doctor can help you adjust the dose you’re taking or switch you to a better alternative that doesn’t cause dry mouth.
If the drug choice and dosage cannot be altered, it may serve you well to take it in the morning rather than at night as the latter is more likely to cause cavities. Whatever you do, don’t be hasty or make changes without consulting your doctor first.
There is no replacement for regular oral hygiene and dental care, which entail brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing, and rinsing your mouth with an alcohol-free mouthwash such as Biotene. Make sure that your toothpaste and mouthwash contain fluoride for added protection against tooth decay.
You can also use OTC products that will assist in moisturizing the oral tissues such as saliva substitutes and glycerin-containing oral lubricants in the form of gel or sprays.
Salivary stimulants are yet another recommended treatment aid. These come in the form of sugarless gums, mints, and candies to help stimulate salivary flow. Certain prescription medications such as pilocarpine (Salagen) and cevimeline (Evoxac) perform the same function, but are not recommended for people with asthma or glaucoma.
The moisture in your mouth can also be replaced by using artificial saliva and oral rinses that are readily available at any pharmacy.
All said and done, there are cases of dry mouth that remain incurable as the causal agent cannot always be eliminated. In such cases, it becomes necessary to use nonmedicinal methods to alleviate the symptoms associated with dry mouth and to maintain good oral and dental health.
Natural Remedies to Get Relief from Dry Mouth
Here are some all-natural ways that can help you overcome the symptomatic discomfort associated with dry mouth, primarily by kicking the salivary glands into action.
1. Increase Fluid Intake
Dehydration is one of the most common reasons behind dry mouth. So, the best thing you can do is increase your fluid intake to keep your body hydrated. Proper hydration makes it easier for your body to produce more saliva and get rid of the symptoms of dry mouth.
- Consume an ample amount of water throughout the day. If you cannot drink water, suck on small pieces of ice.
- Eat partly frozen chunks of water-based fruits and vegetables such as pineapple, watermelon, and cucumber.
- Drink smoothies, fruit juice, or vegetable juice.
- Drink 1 to 2 glasses of coconut water daily.
- Drink herbal teas such as chamomile tea or other noncaffeinated options.
- Eat soft and liquid foods such as stews and soups.
Avoid caffeinated beverages, sodas, and alcoholic drinks as they can contribute to dehydration.
2. Try Sugar-Free Gums and Candies
Mints, lozenges, and candies containing xylitol are a favorite among patients with dry mouth as they perform the dual function of stimulating saliva production and preventing cavities.
Don’t be in a rush to gulp down these sugarless treats. Savoring them in your mouth for a long time, such that they are allowed to dissolve slowly, will help you maximize their true potential.
Chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free hard candies to keep your mouth moist and free from cavities. Prefer to choose citrus, cinnamon, or mint flavored gums.
3. Exploit the Healing Potential of Aloe Vera
An age-old remedy to treat dry mouth is aloe vera. It also helps protect the sensitive tissue in the mouth and enhances the functioning of the taste buds.
- Drink ¼ cup of aloe vera juice daily to cure dry mouth.
- You can also rinse your mouth with aloe vera juice a few times a day.
- Alternatively, apply pure aloe vera gel around your mouth using a cotton swab. Leave it on for several minutes and then rinse your mouth with cold water. Do this two to three times a day.
4. Ginger is Good for Dry Mouth
Ginger is another natural healing agent that can be safely used to address your dry mouth symptoms. It is proven to be quite effective in spurring the flow of saliva, thereby keeping your mouth hydrated and fresh for longer.
- Chew a small piece of fresh ginger slowly. Do this several times a day to fight dry mouth symptoms.
- You can also drink 2 to 3 cups of ginger tea mixed with honey daily to stimulate your salivary glands.
5. Use a Room Humidifier
If your living environment is overly dry, the lack of moisture in the air can contribute to dry mouth over time. It is therefore recommended to use a humidifier in your living or working space to raise the moisture quotient in the air. Breathing in this treated air can relieve the discomfort associated with dry mouth to a great extent.
A cold-air humidifier is especially helpful for mouth breathers as they sleep, as they tend to experience their worst symptoms at night.
6. Cayenne Pepper Will Facilitate Saliva Flow
Cayenne pepper stimulates saliva production, making it one of the best remedies for dry mouth. Also, it helps bolster the taste buds so you can better distinguish sour, sweet, salty, and bitter flavors.
- Press a little bit of ground cayenne pepper on a wet finger, and then rub it around your tongue. This may cause a burning sensation for some time, but it will stimulate your salivary glands into producing more saliva.
- Also, sprinkle cayenne pepper powder in your soups, salads, and other dishes.
- Alternatively, you can take cayenne pepper capsules after consulting your doctor.
7. Chew on Fennel Seeds as a Post-Meal Ritual
The fragrant properties of fennel seeds make it an effective agent against bad breath associated with dry mouth. It is richly supplied with flavonoids that help trigger the salivary glands into action and increase saliva flow.
- Munch on fennel seeds several times a day to treat dry mouth.
- You can also mix together equal amounts of fennel seeds and fenugreek seeds. Dry roast them in a pan, grind them thoroughly, and add a little salt. Eat 1/2 teaspoon of this mixture after each meal.
8. Marshmallow Root is a Therapeutic Aid
Marshmallow root acquires a slick gel-like consistency when mixed with water due to its mucilage content. When used as a dry mouth remedy, this gel helps coat and soothe the mouth as well as the throat. Plus, it can effectively relieve many other discomforts associated with the said condition and can help keep your oral cavity in the prime of health.
Marshmallow root-infused mouthwashes are a recommended choice to address a number of painful oral-health issues such as inflammation in the gums, mouth ulcers, and sore throats.
Whip up your own mouthwash by using a cold marshmallow-infused tea to rinse your mouth. Swish it around your oral cavities until the affected tissues are coated with the infusion.
9. Cardamom is a Natural Mouth Freshener
An Ayurvedic remedy to fight dry mouth is cardamom. Chewing on a pod of cardamom stimulates the flow of saliva and helps moisten the mouth. Also, this aromatic aid can save you from the scourge of dryness-induced bad breath.
- Chew a pod of cardamom thoroughly after every meal or whenever your mouth is dry.
- Alternatively, add 1 teaspoon of cardamom powder to 1 glass of hot water. Let it steep for 10 minutes and then drink it. Do this once or twice daily.
- You can also rinse your mouth with lukewarm cardamom tea twice daily.
10. Oil Pulling for Optimum Oral Health
Oil pulling, an ancient Ayurvedic practice, helps keep your mouth moist and thus is very helpful in treating dry mouth. It is also beneficial in maintaining overall oral health and eliminating bad breath. Oil pulling can be done with coconut oil, sesame oil, or any other edible vegetable oil.
- Put 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin coconut oil in your mouth.
- Swish the oil around your mouth thoroughly for 15 minutes.
- Spit it out and rinse your mouth with warm water.
- Brush your teeth as usual.
- Repeat the process daily in the morning before eating anything.
Lemon to Combat Dry Mouth
Lemon juice can assist in stimulating saliva production and relieving the symptoms of dry mouth. Its acidic nature can help cleanse your mouth and eliminate foul breath.
- Add the juice of half a lemon and a little honey to 1 glass of water. Sip this water throughout the day to stay hydrated. Considering the acidic nature of lemon, which can cause enamel erosion, it is recommended to sip this lemon-honey water with a straw.
- You can also drink homemade lemonade to treat dry mouth. Be sure to use lemonade that does not contain sugar.
- Also, sprinkle a little salt on a small piece of lemon. Rub it on your tongue to enhance your taste buds.
How can I Prevent Dry Mouth?
Here are some ways you can prevent the occurrence of dry mouth:
- If you have an option, then avoid taking medicines such as diuretics, antihistamines, and decongestants that can cause a dry mouth.
- The importance of adequate hydration cannot be stressed enough to prevent a whole gamut of health risks, including dry mouth. It may serve you well to sip rather than gulp water and other sugar-free fluids frequently during the day.
- There are certain drinks that tend to leave your mouth utterly dry after consumption, which include caffeine-containing beverages, carbonated sodas, and alcohol. It is important to limit the consumption of such drinks in the interest of your oral health.
- Tobacco has a drying effect on the mouth, which is why smoking and chewing tobacco must be avoided.
- Choose your toothpaste wisely, one that contains fluoride to help keep your teeth strong but is without the foaming ingredient sodium lauryl sulfate as it can further irritate an already dry mouth.
- In addition to brushing and flossing your teeth, clean your tongue daily.
- Reduce your intake of sugary and acidic foods to minimize the risk of tooth decay and erosion.
- If you have a tendency to breathe through your mouth, make a concerted and conscious effort to breathe through the nose as much as possible.
- It’s best to swear off any irritating foods that are dry, spicy, or excessively hot or cold.
- Munch on snacks that have high water content such as celery sticks to stimulate the saliva glands and add moisture to your mouth.
- Visit your dental hygienist regularly for preventive dental care, and get plaque removal done by a professional at least twice a year.
Dry mouth at its worst can jeopardize the integrity of your oral cavity, hamper your ability to speak, and adversely affect your appetite, digestion, and enjoyment of food, thereby paving the way for malnutrition as well as permanent mouth and throat disorders.
It is safe to say that xerostomia can turn from being a minor nuisance to a major detriment to your overall health and quality of life if it continues for too long.
The following complications associated with chronic xerostomia should alert you to the importance of good daily oral care:
- An increased incidence of periodontal disease, including caries and tooth wear.
- Increased dental decay due to plaque and debris retention in the mouth.
- Dry mouth can make wearing dentures a source of great discomfort, leading to problems with denture retention, denture sores, and the tongue sticking to the palate.
When to See a Doctor
You may need to drop by your dentist if:
- You continue to experience dryness in your mouth even after appropriate self-care and medical treatment for a few weeks.
- You notice the development of sore white patches in your mouth.
- Your mouth becomes increasingly red, swollen, and painful.
- You have difficulty chewing or swallowing food.
- You find it difficult to speak.
- You suspect that a prescribed medication, which cannot be discontinued without a doctor’s advice, is triggering your condition.
- You develop symptoms such as an increased frequency to urinate or dry eyes.
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