When you feel a lack of moisture in your mouth that goes beyond being a little thirsty–when it feels like an arid desert in there–you might want to check if you’re suffering from dry mouth, or a lack of saliva.
How Can You Tell If You Have Dry Mouth?
A dry, sticky feeling–resulting in frequent thirst, a persistent tingling feeling, and hoarseness–in the mouth and throat is the most easily spotted sign.
Also known medically as xerostomia, dry mouth is more than just an uncomfortable and awkward feeling. Saliva not only moistens the inside of the mouth; but also helps in digesting food and preventing infection. The lack of it can result in oral health problems, which we’ll come back to later.
What Causes Dry Mouth?
Xerostomia occurs when the salivary glands, which can produce up to a quart of saliva daily, stop working properly. Below are some reasons why this happens.
It can be a side effect of a medical condition or past injury. Many diseases and infections are accompanied by dry mouth, including: Alzheimer’s disease, anemia, diabetes, hypertension, Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and more. Nerve damage due to injuries that affect the head and neck can also affect the body’s ability to produce saliva.
It can be a side effect of a medication or medical treatment. Many prescription and over-the-counter drugs list dry mouth as a possible side effect; including ones used to treat allergies, anxiety, asthma, colds, depression, hypertension and more. Salivary gland damage can also be sustained from chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Dehydration. Any natural situation that leads to the body feeling dehydrated–blood loss, fever, diarrhea, excessive perspiration, nausea and vomiting, and more–can lead to dry mouth.
Caffeine, liquor, methamphetamines, and tobacco. As habit-forming diuretics, these substances can cause dehydration, too. If you’ve ever wondered why your mouth feels extra dry when you have a hangover, this is why. By the way, chewing tobacco counts, too.
Mouth breathing. The causes of habitually breathing through the mouth are usually obvious: excessive weight, chronic allergies, and more. Breathing this way makes it more difficult to maintain a good level of moisture in the mouth.
What Happens to Someone with Dry Mouth?
Minor irritations like cracked lips and mouth sores start popping up after having dry throat for a while. Difficulties in breathing, speaking, tasting, chewing, and swallowing can follow soon after. Apart from these, other serious problems can develop.
Difficulty in wearing dentures and other removable dental appliances. With dry mouth, the risk of developing irritations and subsequent infections under dentures increases.
Bad breath. Saliva not only helps in chewing and swallowing food particles, but also regulates the amount of bacteria and fungi in your mouth. Because both of these functions are affected by dry mouth, bad breath results.
Tongue irritation. Caused by an overgrowth of the Candida albicans fungus–which is usually kept in control by saliva and a healthy mouth–thrush is the common culprit of tongue irritation. The oral health problem is characterized by a white growth on the tongue that may come with an unpleasant taste, or a raw and burning sensation.
Cavities and tooth decay. Enzymes and minerals present in saliva deal with the bacteria that cause tooth decay, and even help rebuild enamel damage. This is why dry mouth is especially damaging to teeth.
Gingivitis and other forms of gum disease. Dry mouth increases the risk of mouth infections overall, and gum diseases are really just infections.
How Can Dry Mouth Be Prevented and Treated?
First and foremost, if you think that your dry mouth is a side effect of a medication or a medical condition, talk to your doctor about it. Your physician may be able to adjust dosage, switch prescriptions, or give you some tips to counteract the tendency for dry mouth to come about.
Drinking more water is the easiest, most inexpensive, and often the most effective way to start ensuring proper salivary gland functions. About two liters of water intake a day should be the daily goal. Hand in hand with this is minimizing intake of drinks with sugar and caffeine; such as coffee, juice, tea and soda.
Using an air purifier, humidifier, or vaporizer can help. When you clean and add moisture to the air around you, you decrease the probability of mouth breathing and internal irritation.
Using rinses, other oral care products, and non-prescription artificial saliva substitutes will definitely help, but usually little lifestyle changes are tried out and tested first.
Encouraging saliva production is essential. Chewing sugar-free gum and sucking on sugar-free candy are good habits to cultivate; and if that doesn’t produce enough results, there are also specific drugs meant to boost salivary gland functions.
Regarding the last two: As with any additional medication, ask your doctor or dentist about the products first before trying them out–and by the way, make sure to keep regular dental appointments. Early detection and prevention is much better than treatment.