Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)
Everyone experiences a dry mouth sometimes, it is not uncommon, it can be because of stress, nerves or upset, however, a dry mouth all the time can be very distressing and lead to serious health problems. A dry mouth can increase the possibility of dental decay or infections in the mouth developing, it can be caused by certain medical treatments or medications and can cause difficulties in tasting, chewing, swallowing and speaking and more seriously, it can be a sign of certain diseases and conditions.
A dry mouth is caused by not having enough saliva, or spit to keep the mouth wet. The symptoms can include: mouth sores, cracked lips, dry feeling in the throat, trouble chewing, tasting or speaking, a sticky, dry feeling in the mouth and a dry, tough tongue. Though we don’t realise it, saliva is very important. It doesn’t just keep the mouth moist; it helps to protect the teeth from decay, to digest food and to prevent infection by controlling bacteria and fungi in the mouth. The saliva makes chewing and swallowing food possible, and without it the susceptibility for developing tooth decay or other infections in the mouth is higher. The required nutrients are also not received if the right foods cant eaten.
Dry mouth can be caused when the saliva glands are not functioning properly, which means the mouth is not kept wet enough. There are numerous causes as to why the saliva glands may not be working correctly:
- Disease: Sjgren’s Syndrome, HIV/AIDS, diabetes and Parkinsons are some of the diseases that can cause dry mouth. They affect the salivary glands.
- Radiation therapy: exposure to radiation during cancer treatment can cause damage to the salivary glands.
- Side effects of some medicines: there are more than 400 medicines that may cause less saliva to be produced by the glands. Often medicines for high blood pressure and depression cause dry mouth.
- Chemotherapy: The drugs that are used during chemotherapy to treat cancer often make the saliva thicker which would make the mouth feel dry.
- Nerve damage: when there is an injury to the head or neck, this can often damage the nerves that tell the salivary glands to make saliva.
If dry mouth is experienced, a doctor or dentist should be contacted to enable diagnosis of the cause. If medication is the cause of dry mouth, the doctor will most likely change the medication or change the dosage. A medicine that helps the glands work better may be prescribed or artificial saliva may be recommended to keep the mouth wet.
Extra care needs to be taken if a patient is suffering from dry mouth. Drinking water often and avoiding drinks with caffeine in them is recommended. Sugarless gum or sucking on sugarless hard sweets will stimulate the saliva flow. It is advised that the patient doesn’t use tobacco or drink alcohol as this will just dry the mouth out further. Brushing teeth gently twice a day, flossing and using a mouth wash are all vital in keeping the teeth healthy.