Xerostomia also known as dry mouth is a symptom of other diseases, not a disease itself.  Medications and some medical treatments can also cause dry mouth.  When the salivary glands fail to function properly, this too will cause dry mouth.  Many people feel like their mouth is dry but their salivary glands could be functioning normally.

Having a dry mouth may lead to other problems due to the fact it may affect your nutrition and your mental health.  It could also lead to dental problems or infections.  If you find that you are suffering from dry mouth on a regular basis you should consult with a physician so that they can find what is causing your xerostomia.

Importance of Saliva

Saliva is very important and helps with many functions of the body such as:

  • Fights bacteria that may cause dental problems or infections.
  • Provides minerals to help fight tooth decay and to help heal sores in the mouth.
  • Provides moisture to the tissues in the mouth keeping them limber which makes talking easier.
  • Breaks down food and lets you taste the difference between sweet, sour, and bitter tasting foods.
  • Helps to aid your digestive system by producing enzymes that help to fully break down the food in your stomach..

Some Causes of Dry Mouth

  • There are over 400 medications that are identified as having a side effect of dry mouth.  Among these are medications for high blood pressure and depression, fluid pills, pain pills, antihistamines and tranquilizers. 
  • Patients undergoing radiation treatment have been found to suffer from xerostomia because of permanent damage to the salivary glands.  The same has been said for patients that have undergone chemotherapy.
  • An autoimmune disorder such as Sjögren's Syndrome has side effects that include dry mouth. 
  • People who have had depression or severe mental stress may also suffer from dry mouth.
  • Patients that have undergone bone marrow transplants or those who suffer from malnutrition often suffer from dry mouth.
  • Those who have had severe trauma above the neck may have experienced the sensation of dry mouth due to nerve damage.  Even though their salivary glands were unharmed, they may not work properly due to the nerve damage.
  • Alzheimer's patients or people who have suffered from a stroke may lose the sensation in their salivary glands causing them difficulty in producing saliva.

Physicians have often thought that dry mouth was just a normal part of growing old.  Research has taught us that aging does not mean a reduction of saliva.  Often, if older people have a dry mouth, it is due to medications they are taking or from a disease they may have.

When salivary glands are not functioning properly, it may change the composition of saliva.  People who suffer from dry mouth can feel varying levels of discomfort, some may even feel a burning sensation in their mouth.  This could affect the way they speak, their ability to swallow, and their ability to chew.  In more severe cases, the person's mouth and lips may become so dry that they experience cracking and bleeding.  They may also notice painful sores on the tongue and mouth lining and may experience severe tooth decay.

Treatment for Dry Mouth

There are several ways you can combat the sensation of dry mouth.

  • Drinking water throughout the day helps keep your body hydrated.
  • Stay away from caffeinated drinks.
  • When you are eating, be sure to drink plenty of liquids, this aids the process of swallowing and will also help to increase the taste of the food you are eating.
  • Drinking water during the night when you wake up will help keep your mouth hydrated.
  • Avoid candy and gum that contains sugar.  Sucking on hard candies instead of chewing them helps your mouth produce saliva.
  • Try to avoid the consumption of alcohol and use of tobacco as these have been known to cause dry mouth.
  • Foods that are spicy, high in acid, and salty will irritate your mouth.  Consume these sparingly.
  • Try to keep a humidifier running in your house at all times..

Many of the medications that I take for my bipolar and schizoaffective disorders cause me to have dry mouth.  I find many of these suggested treatments help keep my mouth lubricated.  I drink large amounts of water throughout the day and night and find that taking a sip of water every few minutes can be annoying but also very helpful.

Source: Margolis, Simeon, The Johns Hopkins Medical Handbook, 2001

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