People who experience dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, know how unpleasant it can be. It’s more than a cotton mouth. No matter how much water you may try to drink, the dry mouth persists. What it means is that our bodies are not producing enough saliva to keep our mouths moist. We tend to associate dry mouth as a common factor for aging and older populations, but this is not always the case. For about the 20% of seniors who do experience dry mouth, this is usually the side effect of medications. Actually, there are several causes of dry mouth and those are:

  • medications
  • medical conditions
  • lifestyle habits

Symptoms of Dry Mouth
People suffering from dry mouth may experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Dryness in the mouth
  • A sticky feeling in the mouth
  • Chapped lips
  • Bad breath
  • Waking up at night feeling thirsty
  • Problems speaking
  • Difficulty swallowing or eating dry foods
  • Problems wearing dentures

The number one cause of dry mouth are medications, and in fact there are more than 400 different kinds that create this side effect, including over-the-counter medicines and commonly prescribed medications. These include antihistamines, antidepressants, diuretics and sedatives.

Medical Conditions
Although medication side effects are most often the cause of dry mouth, certain medical conditions can also create dry mouth symptoms. Some of the most common diseases that can contribute to dry mouth include:

  • Autoimmune disorders such as Sjogren’s Syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and systematic lupus erythematosus
  • Diabetes
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Damaged salivary glands
  • Cancer

Cancer Treatment and Dry Mouth
Many of those who are being treated for cancer experience dry mouth because of the chemotherapy and radiation. As chemotherapy combats cancer cells it can also affect the cells in your salivary glands and may cause dry mouth, and radiation for cancers in the head or neck area can damage the salivary glands which can increase the risk of dry mouth.

Lifestyle Habits
Certain lifestyle habits can affect your saliva production, such as excess consumption of caffeine or alcohol, which dehydrates you, or smoking, or breathing with your mouth open. All of these factors can be modified and will decrease your risk of dry mouth once they are addressed.

What does dry mouth mean to your oral health?
Experiencing consistently dry mouth can increase your risk of oral problems such as bad breath, cavities and mouth infections. Saliva in your mouth is very important because it helps you break down your food. It also helps moisturize and lubricate your mouth, and helps keep the pH balance in your mouth to keep the bad bacteria at bay. Saliva even has its own antimicrobial properties!

As we can see, we need sufficient saliva in our mouths to wash away food debris and reduce plaque, which is why severe tooth decay and gum disease can occur if dry mouth is not treated in time and even in older adults.

Making lifestyle changes such as drinking enough water (about 8 glasses of 8 oz. per day), diminishing alcohol, smoking and caffeine can help mild cases of dry mouth, but if medications or medical conditions are the main culprit, speaking with you doctor about this condition can help find ways around it. It is also important to speak with your dentist about your dry mouth since you can work together to prevent oral health complications caused by dry mouth. Proper oral health hygiene will prevent the buildup of plaque, which is the sticky layer of bacteria that promotes tooth decay and gum disease.

Call our office today at (562) 434-6414 to schedule an appointment.