Pasties, cottonmouth, doughmouth, whatever you call it, 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.
When you are experiencing cottonmouth, your body isn’t producing enough saliva. Cottonmouth can be a temporary situation, brought on by nerves or excitement, or it can be an ongoing issue, caused by certain medical conditions or by some types of medications or illegal drugs.
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.
As theAmerican Dental Association (ADA)notes, the average person produces as much as 1.5 liters of saliva per day. You’re likely to develop cottonmouth when your salivary glands stop producing enough saliva. Saliva plays several roles, from helping you to digest food to keep your oral cavity moist. It also helps to clean your mouth and maintain a neutral pH level.
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What Causes Dry Mouth?
Xerostomia occurs when the salivary glands, which can produce up to a quart of saliva daily, stop working properly. Factors that may contribute to this condition include:
- 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.
- Medications. More than500 medicinesare linked to dry mouth. These include prescription allergy medications, antidepressants and sedatives, among many others. If your dentist thinks that one of your medications may be causing dry mouth, changing the dose or switching to a different formulation might help to reduce symptoms.
- Chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Chemotherapy or radiation therapy, especially for the treatment of cancer in the head or neck, is another cause of xerostomia, according to the ADA. Symptoms of dry mouth might develop during the therapy or not occur until months afterward.
- Lifestyle habits. Certain lifestyle habits, such as drinking a lot of alcohol, smoking or using tobacco products and using drugs such as cocaine, speed or marijuana can lead to cottonmouth.
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 a 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?
Treatments for cottonmouth range from adjusting medication to addressing the underlying condition. When dry mouth is linked to lifestyle choices, giving up on them or significantly cutting back may improve symptoms. Sipping water can also help, especially during meals, as this will moisten the mouth and help with chewing and swallowing. You might also find some relief by chewing gum, as this can help to stimulate saliva flow.
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 wateris 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 rinses, other oral care products, and non-prescription artificial saliva substituteswill definitely help, but usually, little lifestyle changes are tried out and tested first.
Encouraging saliva productionis 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.