What Is Dry Mouth?
Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is abnormal dryness of the mucous membranes in the mouth, due to a reduction of the flow or change in the composition of saliva. It can occur as a symptom of many possible underlying disorders or as a side effect of certain medications. Dry mouth is not a serious medical problem in itself, but it may contribute to poor nutrition, psychological discomfort, mouth infections, and tooth decay, and eventual tooth loss in extreme cases if left untreated. Medical care is aimed at relieving symptoms and treating the underlying disorder.
Who Gets Dry Mouth?
Dry mouth is a common problem that occurs most frequently among older people—not because it is a normal part of aging, but because the elderly take more medications than younger age groups, and a number of these drugs cause dry mouth as a side effect.
- Dry or burning sensation in the mouth.
- Difficulty in chewing, swallowing, tasting, and speaking.
- In advanced cases, cracked lips, changes in the tongue’s surface, widespread tooth decay, and mouth ulcers.
- Oral fungal infection (thrush) is common and may be subtle (such as intolerance of spicy foods, occasional cracks at the corner of the mouth).
- Dry mouth may occur as a side effect of many medications, including antihypertensive drugs, antidepressants, painkillers, tranquilizers, diuretics, and antihistamines.
- Radiation therapy for tumors in or near the mouth can cause severe dry mouth.
- Bone marrow transplant-related effects may produce dry mouth.
- Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s own natural defenses against disease inappropriately begin to attack healthy tissue, may lead to dry mouth as well as dry eyes.
- Dry mouth may be associated with neurological changes that occur with brain-centered disorders like a stroke or Alzheimer’s disease (see Stroke and Alzheimer’s Disease for more information).
- Nutritional deficiencies may be a cause.
- Fear, stress, anxiety, and depression may lead to dry mouth.
- Some people report the sensation of chronic dry mouth, even though their salivary glands are normal.
- Chronic dry mouth can be self-diagnosed by observation of symptoms. However, your doctor or dentist should be notified.
- Sip water frequently, especially when speaking
or eating. Avoid beverages that contain caffeine, citric acid, phosphoric acid, or sugar, which may aggravate dryness and lead to tooth damage.
- Chew sugarless gum or suck on sugarless hard candies to stimulate saliva production, or try sucking on a plum pit.
- Avoid tobacco, alcohol, and foods that are salty, spicy, or highly acidic.
- At night, use a humidifier, and keep a glass of water by your bed in case you awaken with dry mouth.
- Use lip balm to prevent the lips from cracking.
- The use of prescription topical fluoride may be necessary to reduce the risk of tooth decay.
- An artificial saliva solution can help moisten the mouth’s mucous membranes.
- Your doctor may prescribe the medication pilocarpine for dry mouth induced by radiation therapy or Sjögren’s syndrome.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Be aware of the side effects of medications.
When To Call Your Doctor
- Make an appointment with your doctor or dentist if you develop dry mouth.
Reviewed by Michael Kapner, DDS, General and Aesthetic Dentistry, Norwalk Medical Center, Norwalk, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.