Dry mouth is a decreased flow of saliva that may be associated with dehydration, radiation therapy of the salivary gland regions, anxiety, the use of drugs (such as atropine and antihistamines), vitamin deficiency, various forms of parotitis, or various syndromes (such as Plummer-Vinson syndrome).
It also is called hyposalivation, asialorrhea, and xerostomia.
Although xerostomia is not a disease in itself, it is a symptom of certain diseases.
Most cases of dry mouth are caused by failure of the salivary glands to function properly. Dry mouth also is a common side effect of some medications and medical treatments. But in some people, the sensation of a dry mouth occurs even though their salivary glands are normal.
Dry mouth is a significant health problem because it can affect nutrition and psychological well-being, while also contributing to tooth decay and other mouth infections. Dry mouth also may signal more serious problems in the body.
Dry mouth is a sensation nearly everyone experiences at one time or another. But for an estimated one out of five older Americans, it is a chronic disorder. And it can have far-reaching nutritional consequences.
University of Minnesota researchers found that over the course of several days, a group of senior citizens with dry mouth were eating foods lower in 12 nutrients - ranging from vitamin A to thiamin - than a group without the problem. Particularly lacking in their diets were potassium, vitamin B6, iron, calcium, and zinc, as well as fiber.
One reason dry mouth interferes with healthful eating is that the parched, crusty, and sensitive conditions it creates can hamper the ability to tolerate spicy or acidic foods. Imagine how the juice of an orange, for example, might sting the sores that often develop in dry areas inside the mouth.
Other foods, such as breads, cereals, and some fruits and vegetables, also can be difficult to chew and swallow because of a lack of saliva to moisten them. Finally, people with dry mouth often perceive the taste and quality of their food to be poor in general, which can curb their appetite and blunt overall interest in eating.
Changes in salivary gland function can be brought on by:
- Medications: over 400 commonly used drugs can cause the sensation of dry mouth. The main culprits are the antihypertensives and antidepressants
- Cancer treatment:radiation therapy can permanently damage salivary glands if they are in the field of radiation. Chemotherapy can change the composition of saliva, creating the sensation of dry mouth
- Diseases:Sjogren's syndrome is an autoimmune disorder whose symptoms include dry mouth and dry eyes
- Other conditions: bone marrow transplants, endocrine disorders, nutritional deficiencies, anxiety, mental stress, and depression can cause a dry mouth
- Changes not related to salivary glands include nerve damage (trauma to the head and neck area from surgery or wounds that can damage the nerves that supply sensation to the mouth), and altered perception (conditions such as Alzheimer's disease or stroke may change the ability to perceive oral sensations).
Although there is no single way to treat dry mouth, there are a number of steps that can be followed to keep the teeth in good health and relieve the sense of dryness. These suggestions will not correct the underlying cause of xerostomia, but they will contribute to one's comfort:
To preserve the teeth:
1. Brush your teeth at least once a day
2. Use dental floss at least twice a day
3. Use a toothpaste that contains fluoride. Ask your dentist about using a topical fluoride
4. Avoid sticky, sugary foods or brush immediately after eating them
5. See your dentist at least three times a year for cleanings and early treatment of cavities
6. Ask your dentist if you should use a remineralizing solution or prescription-strength fluoride
To relieve dryness and preserve the soft tissues:
1. Take frequent sips of water or drinks without sugar. Pause often while speaking to sip some liquid. Avoid coffee, tea and soft drinks
2. Drink frequently while eating. This will make chewing and swallowing easier and may increase the taste of foods
3. Keep a glass of water by your bed for dryness during the night or upon awakening
4. Chew sugarless gum - the chewing may produce more saliva
5. Eat sugarless mints or hard sugarless candy but let them dissolve in your mouth. Cinnamon and mint are often most effective
6. Avoid tobacco and alcohol
7. Avoid spicy, salty and highly acidic foods that may irritate the mouth
8. Ask your dentist about using artificial salivas to help lubricate the mouth
9. Use a humidifier, particularly at night.
What condition is causing the dry mouth?
Are there any other symptoms prior to getting dry mouth?
Will taking vitamins help with the dry mouth?
Does prescription drugs affect this condition?
Are there any OTC (over-the-counter) drugs that could be effecting the dry mouth?