Dry mouth, also known as Xerostomia, is a condition that usually results from a decreased production of saliva.
Dry mouth affects about 10% of all people and is more prevalent in women than men.
Disorders of saliva production affect elderly people and those who are taking prescription and non-prescription medications most frequently.
Saliva is an essential part of a healthy mouth:
- The lubricating properties of saliva provide comfort and help protect the oral tissues against ulcers, sores, and other effects of friction.
- Saliva neutralizes acids and provides antibodies against bacterial threat.
- Saliva helps digest food and helps teeth in remineralisation.
- Saliva is also a very essential contributor to a person’s ability to taste, as it acts as a solvent for the taste stimuli.
What causes dry mouth?
There are many causes of dry mouth. Dry mouth most commonly occurs as a side effect of medications that cause decrease saliva production, including: blood pressure medications, antihistamines, antidepressants, diuretics, non-steroidal anti inflammatories, and many others.
Other causes of dry mouth are: radiation treatments to treat cancerous tumours of the head and neck, salivary gland diseases, diabetes, hormonal imbalance, mouth breathing, sleep apnoea, and autoimmune disorders such as Sjögren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic lupus erythematosus.
Eating disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia, are other risk factors for developing xerostomia.
Salivary production can be decreased if a major salivary duct becomes blocked, such as from a stone or infection. Other causative factors include stress, anxiety and dehydration.
People complaining of dry mouth may have trouble speaking, eating, tasting food, and swallowing. Frequently, a dry mouth may be most manifest at night during sleeping, especially in mouth-breathers. The dryness may cause chapped or cracked lips, dry eyes, dry throat, pale gums, headaches, dizziness, bad breath or a persistent cough. Those affected may also complain of sores in their mouth.
Without a sufficient quantity of saliva to wash food particles off teeth, neutralize acids in the mouth, and battle the bacteria population, a person frequently develops multiple cavities especially around the gum line.
What is the treatment for dry mouth?
For those seeking comfort and relief from dry mouth, treatment for dry mouth can be divided into the following three categories: saliva substitution, saliva stimulation and caries prevention.
When selecting a mouthwash, you must choose a product that doesn’t contain alcohol, such as Biotene, as alcohol-based products will only cause further mouth dryness.
There are many home remedies to help with dry mouth. These include drinking water more frequently throughout the day, especially while eating. Restricting caffeine intake and letting ice melt in the mouth will help the mouth remain as moist as possible.
Humidifying the sleeping area and coating the lips with a balm or Vaseline are also helpful remedies.
Chewing gum can help stimulate salivary flow; remember not to use products containing sugar as you will be placed at greater risk for developing cavities.
Sugar-free lemon drops can be comforting in relieving dry mouth.
Artificial saliva substitutes and oral lubricants containing glycerine will provide help during eating and speaking. They won’t cure xerostomia but will provide some relief. Biotene once again have a great range of these products.
Prevention of caries and Candida infection: Cavities, gingivitis, periodontal disease and fungal infections are common complications of dry mouth. A dry oral environment makes plaque control more difficult, so meticulous oral care and hygiene becomes essential in preventing rampant caries, gingivitis and periodontal disease.
Those affected should incorporate a low-sugar diet and begin daily use of fluoride treatments and antimicrobial rinses to combat the effects oral dryness has on the teeth and oral tissues.
Prescription toothpastes that contain more fluoride, calcium, and phosphate will help protect and remineralize teeth where necessary.
Frequent visits to the dentist are necessary to help manage these complications.
Since people with dry mouth often develop fungal infections such as thrush (oral candidiasis), they may require topical antifungal treatment such as rinses and dissolving tablets. Dentures often harbor fungal infections, so they should be soaked daily in chlorhexidine or 1% bleach.