Does your mouth feel dry? If so, you’re not alone. Xerostomia (dry mouth) affects about 1 in 5 adults, and it’s thought to affect up to half of residents in long-term care facilities. Some people feel like their mouth is dry even though they have normal saliva production, while others don’t perceive any problem even when there’s a more than 50% reduction in the amount or quality of saliva. Some symptoms of dry mouth include a sticky feeling in your mouth; thick or stringy saliva; bad breath; difficulty chewing, speaking and swallowing; a bad taste in the mouth; and increased discomfort when wearing dentures.
Saliva plays an important role in oral health. By keeping the mouth lubricated, it is easier to chew and swallow foods, and the sensation of taste is improved. Some medications that are dissolved in the mouth require sufficient saliva to be absorbed and work effectively. Saliva also has a protective function, reducing the likelihood of mouth ulcers, gingivitis, bacterial and fungal infections, dental carries and tooth loss. It can also reduce the discomfort that some people experience when wearing dentures. Practicing good dental hygiene and seeing your dentist for regular examinations will help to prevent problems.
Many health conditions — from autoimmune and endocrine disorders to viral infections and genetic diseases — contribute to dry mouth. For cancer patients who undergo radiation to the head and neck area, changes to the salivary glands can result in significant changes to saliva production. If you have difficulty swallowing or need to drink water to help swallow dry food, you might be underproducing saliva. Nasal congestion, mouth breathing, and sleep apnea can increase nighttime symptoms. Dry mouth may also be increased by smoking or chewing tobacco and drinking caffeinated beverages.
One of the more common causes of dry mouth, especially in the elderly, is medications. Some of the most likely culprits are medications for allergies, high blood pressure, mental health, overactive bladder, and pain. Fortunately, the drug effects are generally not permanent. Your pharmacist can help to determine if one of your medications could be causing dry mouth and may be able to suggest medication changes.
What can you do to reduce dry mouth? If medication changes are not an option, here are some things you can do to lessen symptoms:
- Cut down on caffeinated beverages.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Quit smoking.
- Limit alcohol intake.
- Sip water or suck on ice chips.
- Chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free candies.
- Use a room humidifier or vaporizer.
You can also use a saliva substitute to lubricate the mouth. These products work like natural saliva, but they are not long-lasting, nor are they proven to reduce dental carries or oral thrush. Let your dentist know if you are using a product for dry mouth. We carry a variety of products, including sprays, gels, mouthwash, toothpaste, gums and candies. With so many options, we are sure you will find at least one product that meets your needs and preferences.