We’ve all been parched on occasion, and know how little fun it can be. However, in those for whom it happens chronically, Dry Mouth may be an actual condition in need of treatment, known medically as Xerostomia. About 15 – 20% of adults in their twenties complain of dry mouth, and that frequency just increases with age - to roughly 30 – 40% of people age 60 and older. So what can cause Dry Mouth, and what can we do to combat it?
Xerostomia results from a lack of adequate saliva production, which can be caused by many factors. It can be a side effect of many medications and medical treatments or a product of dehydration or lifestyle indicators such as smoking and breathing through your mouth. Dry mouth can even be an indication of certain diseases and infections, including HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, anemia, cystic fibrosis, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, Parkinson's disease, stroke, and mumps.
No matter the cause, the symptoms need to be addressed. Symptoms can include:
- a sticky, dry or burning feeling in the mouth
- dry throat
- cracked lips
- a dry, rough tongue
- bad breath
- mouth sores
Unchecked Xerostomia can lead to difficulties chewing, tasting, swallowing and speaking. It increases your chance of developing dental decay and mouth infections, as saliva is not present in sufficient supply to help wash away food particles and limit bacterial growth. Additionally, a lack of saliva may affect proper digestion.
So what can we do? Treatment depends largely on what’s causing the condition. If it’s a by-product of a medication or medical treatment, discussing alternatives with your doctor may be all it takes to resolve the issue. In many cases, however, it is not possible to fully correct Xerostomia, and controlling it is our best and only bet. Things to try on your own to stimulate and maintain saliva production:
- Sipping water and other sugarless drinks frequently
- Sucking on sugarless candy or chewing sugarless gum- especially products with Xylitol
- Using a humidifier at night
- Avoiding drying agents - caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, spicy and salty foods, sodas, etc
- Breathing through your nose as much as possible
In some cases, your doctor may recommend a prescription mouth rinse, drug or saliva substitute to combat the symptoms. When in doubt, check with your dentist or physician to get the combination of treatment that’s right for you!