You may have feelings of being parched, however, water can never satisfy it. There could be a gritty or burning sensation in your mouth and you feel like there isn’t enough saliva for you to swallow. You may have trouble swallowing your food and find that your mouth feels sticky. These are all symptoms of dry mouth.
Your mouth requires enough saliva for optimum dental health. This is to prevent oral infections, gum disease and tooth decay. A dry mouth is known in medical terms as xerostomia and is a condition that can be extremely discomforting.
Find out below what dry mouth is, how it works and what the most common causes, symptoms and treatments are.
How common is dry mouth?
Approximately one-fourth of people experience dry mouth. This condition is most common in the elderly population but can occur at any age. It often goes underdiagnosed and can be a symptom of an underlying disease. A dry mouth is also a common side effect of taking certain medications.
What is dry mouth a symptom of?
There are various diseases for which dry mouth can be a symptom:
- Diabetes mellitus
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Autoimmune disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
What causes people to develop a dry mouth?
The causes of dry mouth may vary per individual circumstance. As mentioned earlier, it could be caused due to an underlying disease, lifestyle habits and side effects of certain treatments.
Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy medication and radiation therapy can cause dry mouth. In some cases, radiation therapy can damage salivary glands, thereby reducing the amount of saliva produced. Surgery which removes salivary glands or results in damage to the nerves leading to salivary glands can inhibit the production of saliva.
With regard to lifestyle habits, frequent smoking and drinking alcohol can dry out the mouth. Having caffeinated and sugary drinks can make your dry mouth worse.
What medication can cause a person to develop a dry mouth?
Dry mouth is a side effect of an exhaustive list of medications such as:
- Antidepressants (e.g. Fluoxetine)
- Antipsychotics (e.g. Risperidone)
- Antihistamines which are used to treat allergies and sinusitis (e.g. cetirizine)
- Benzodiazepines used for anxiety (e.g. lorazepam)
- Opioids used for pain (e.g. Percocet)
These medications reduce the amount or quality of saliva produced, thereby leading to dry mouth.
Can vitamin deficiencies lead to dry mouth?
The lack of certain vitamins has been associated with the condition of dry mouth.
Zinc affects the amount and composition of saliva in the mouth. Therefore a zinc deficiency can cause less saliva to be produced. A dry mouth can also be an indicator of vitamin A and iron deficiency. A lack of vitamin B has also been associated with dry mouth.
How can dry mouth be treated?
Ideally, the underlying cause of dry mouth would have to be diagnosed in order to determine the best treatment. If an underlying disease, for example, diabetes mellitus is the cause, treatment will revolve around better-controlling blood sugar levels. Any associated vitamin deficiencies would require adequate supplementation.
If the dry mouth condition is a side effect of a certain medication, the doctor would advise on a substitute or look at reducing the dose of that particular medication. Associated conditions would have to be treated by a dentist, such as tooth cavities and gum disease.
Medication can be prescribed to treat dry mouths, such as pilocarpine and cevimeline. These medications can stimulate the production of saliva and restore hydration to the mouth. Over-the-counter saliva substitutes can also be found in the form of mouthwashes, gels, sprays and pastilles. These may contain ingredients like xylitol and carboxymethylcellulose which moisturises oral surfaces and provides relief to dry mouth sufferers.
What lifestyle changes can be made to improve dry mouth?
Keeping hydrated and sipping water regularly can provide relief for dry mouth. You need to avoid sugary, alcoholic and caffeinated foods or drinks. Alcohol can cause severe drying of the oral tissues and mouthwashes or medications containing alcohol are best avoided. If you smoke, this habit needs to be eliminated from your lifestyle. For those that experience severe dry mouth after waking up, this is due to sleeping with the mouth open. Making conscious efforts during the day to breathe through the nose may help. It’s also a good idea to reduce exposure to heaters which can exacerbate dryness.
What home remedies are recommended to help dry mouth sufferers?
Chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free sweets can stimulate the production of saliva, and is therefore recommended. The use of a humidifier may also provide relief as more moisture fills the air. Due to the lack of saliva, many dry mouth sufferers are at a higher risk of oral infection and bad breath. Therefore it is advised to rinse with alcohol-free mouthwashes and maintain good dental hygiene.
Dry mouth often occurs when a person's salivary glands do not produce enough saliva. The most common sign of dry mouth is dehydration, meaning there is not enough fluid within the body to produce the necessary amount of saliva. Other reasons people have dry mouth is because of stress and/or anxiety.
The most common reason people experience a dry mouth during sleep is because of mouth-breathing, either caused by a blocked or crooked nose, for instance. Other causes are cancer treatments, like chemotherapy, and oral thrush.
The best method is to hydrate well throughout the day and by keeping a cold glass of water beside your bed. Additionally, adding a humidifier to your sleep space can provide more moisture in the air, in turn, preventing a dry mouth. Avoiding mouthwashes that contain alcohol is also advised and acidic and/or spicy foods before sleep.