Dry throat. Cracked lips. Parched tongue and gums. Difficulty swallowing and that thirst you can never quench— all signs of xerostomia, or as you and I know it, dry mouth! Besides just being an annoying problem, it can be a risk factor for dental disease, oral health problems, and a sign of some other potentially serious health conditions. Here at Scott Edwards DDS, we know dry mouth can lead to the lack of confidence you need to keep smiling. And we do not want that! We have put together this guide to protect your smile by arming you with the facts.
What is Xerostomia aka Dry Mouth?
Healthy adults typically produce about 1.5 liters of saliva a day. This makes talking, eating, swallowing, tasting and digesting food both possible and comfortable. Saliva contains minerals that strengthen our teeth and gums, and cleans our mouth.
We have all felt our mouths go dry at some point, especially when getting nervous or stressed, or after performing a strenuous task. But when our mouth feels dry often, it interferes with our daily living, not to mention opens the door to mouth sores and fungal infections, throat and mouth pains, and trouble speaking and eating.
If you suffer from dry mouth, you should know that you are not alone. One out of every five people suffer from dry mouth or inadequate saliva production, and your risk increases with age — a whopping 50% percent of older adults are likely to struggle with dry mouth.
Causes of Dry Mouth
Your dry mouth could be caused by a number of things, but if you are taking any medications, then that is probably what is behind it. More than 90% of dry mouth cases stem from medications. At least 400 medications, including many of the most commonly prescribed ones, have been noted as potentially causing dry mouth, ranging from antihistamines to antidepressants, anti-inflammatories, diuretics, sedatives and narcotics. This is why older people, who generally take more medications on a regular basis, are at higher risk for dry mouth — it is not a side effect of aging!
Diagnosing Dry Mouth
Because a small percentage of dry mouth cases are connected to some worrying conditions, it is important to schedule an appointment with us at Scott Edwards DDS to have it checked out. Dr. Edwards will examine your mouth and look at your medical history. Be sure to prepare for this appointment by providing a list of all medications, vitamins and supplements you are taking, and any key personal information, like recent life changes or stressful events.
This exam and consultation may point to habits or medications that are leading to your dry mouth. At-home treatments and simple lifestyle changes are sometimes very effective and might be all you need. For example, mouthwashes containing alcohol irritate and dehydrate the mucous membranes, linking them to xerostomia. Dr. Edwards might recommend that you switch mouthwash brands or try certain at-home dry mouth treatments.
If the issue persists, we may need to perform a blood test, or take a radiographic scan of your salivary glands. This is called a sialography and it determines whether there are any stones or masses in them. Dr. Edwards may take a biopsy if he suspects you have Sjögren’s syndrome— a disorder of your immune system. To do so, we will take a small sample of your salivary gland and have it processed at a lab in order to make a diagnosis.
One of the best ways to prevent dry mouth or to minimize symptoms is to maintain good oral health care habits. This includes brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and flossing. Listed below are a few other easy and effective dry mouth treatments that you can do at home.
Hydrate Your Mouth
Dehydration is one of the most common, and easily treatable, reasons behind dry mouth. Start by making sure you are getting enough fluids each day, which helps your body produce more saliva, alleviating the symptoms. In addition to getting the requisite eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day, you could also try spicing things up. Ancient peoples used herbs and spices for much more than flavoring foods —eating spicy and flavorful foods makes your mouth naturally produce more saliva.
If you needed another reason to give up sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and smoking— here it is. All of these guys contribute to dry mouth. Caffeine and alcohol are diuretics. They flush out liquids, including the saliva you desperately need. Teas contain tannins, a naturally occurring compound that creates a dry sensation in the mouth. Smoking inhibits saliva production and irritates your mouth. Sugar creates a harmful acidic environment for your teeth and a lack of saliva that greatly increases your chance of tooth decay.
Adjust Your Sleep Habits
Sleeping on it might solve your dry mouth dilemma as well. There are numerous steps you can take during your pre-bed routine to stave off dry mouth, like using a humidifier. This adds moisture to the air in the room, helping to reduce dry mouth symptoms. Make a conscious effort to breathe through your nose as you lie in bed. Talk to your doctor if you snore, and how to keep your mouth closed during sleep. The problem may be narrow or obstructed nasal airways, which cause you to breathe through your mouth. If you wear dentures, do not wear them while you sleep. Keep them clean overnight by soaking them.
Reproduce Your Saliva
Talk to Dr. Edwards about over-the-counter saliva substitutes that might aid your dry mouth problems. These likely contain xylitol and come in spray, rinse, or swab versions, and in gel or liquid form. The American Academy of Oral Medicine lists several brands of saliva substitutes on its website. The American Dental Association recommends that you look for a saliva substitute that bears the ADA seal. These artificial saliva products treat the symptoms but do not cure the problem, so it is still a good idea to talk to Dr. Edwards about what might be causing your dry mouth.
We hope you learned more about dry mouth and the ways to help prevent it. Here at Scott Edwards DDS, we know dry mouth is an uncomfortable condition and can lead to tooth decay and gum disease when left untreated. If you have this condition, and are in the Memphis area, stop by one of our two convenient offices or call us to learn more about treatment options. We do not want your mouth to feel like the Sahara any longer!