The Hidden Dangers of Dry Mouth and How to Prevent It

Dry mouth does not seem like a serious concern. After all, nearly every one of us has experienced dry mouth at least once in our lives. All we have to do is take a sip of water and your dry mouth goes away. However, it can be a serious issue. Imagine your mouth continuously free of much-needed saliva no matter what you do.


How Does Happen?

In a normal mouth, the salivary glands work together to produce saliva that moisturizes the mucus membrane of the mouth. Saliva also has other functions like lubricating the mouth and tongue for speech, helps in mastication and softens food for digestion, helps in swallowing food, prevents tooth decay by washing away food particles, etc. Saliva also contains very important antibacterial compounds that destroy bacteria and fungi and maintain the health of the oral cavity. As a result, decreased saliva production can affect multiple parts of the oral cavity and cause long-lasting problems.

Causes of Dry Mouth

Dry mouth, or xerostomia, can have a number of different causes. It can be due to underlying medical conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. It can also be caused by diseases like salivary gland cancer, Sjögren’s Syndrome, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson disease, etc. For some patients, dry mouth may also be caused by medications. More than 400 different medications can cause dry mouth, but the condition usually reverses itself when the medication is stopped.

Symptoms of Dry Mouth

Dry mouth can be uncomfortable and it can become a chronic condition. The most common symptoms of dry mouth include the following:

Difficulty in swallowing, chewing and speaking

Sticky, dry feeling in the mouth

Burning mouth, tongue and lips

Cracked lips

Dry rough tongue

Frequent feeling of thirst

Mouth sores

Infections in the mouth

The Hidden Dangers of Dry Mouth

Patients with dry mouth find it difficult to do simple things like swallowing. Ideally, in a normal patient, saliva is produced throughout the day to lubricate the mouth. Saliva production increases while eating food and while speaking or in any activity that require lubrication of the oral cavity. However, when saliva production decreases, every function of the oral cavity is affected. Speech becomes difficult, as the oral cavity is dry. Saliva also assists in mastication, and a deficiency of saliva can cause food particles to linger in the mouth. Normally, after saliva also sweeps food away from the mouth and clears away the oral cavity. In dry mouth, the food particles are not swept away and they stick to the surface of the tooth. This increases the chances of getting cavities. Along with cavities, patients frequently experience oral fungal infections as the normal antibacterial activity of saliva is absent. Other problems may also occur but this varies from patient to patient depending on the now bad the dry mouth is.

Dealing with Dry Mouth

The symptoms of dry mouth can be treated easily with artificial saliva, salivary stimulants like pastilles and sugar-free chewing gum and systemic drugs, like pilocarpine, can be used to control the condition. General measures like frequent sips of cold water, sucking on pieces of ice or sugar-free candy, eating partially frozen melon or pineapple chunks, and local applications of petroleum jelly are also helpful in controlling the condition. Apart from local measures, it is also important to diagnose the underlying medical condition that is causing the dry mouth. For example, drugs are the most common cause of dry mouth and your general physician can adjust the medication or control the dose of medications like antipsychotics, beta-blockers, diuretics, antihistamines, antimuscarinic drugs and tricyclic antidepressants.

In the end, if the condition becomes very uncomfortable doctors can try to transfer part of a salivary glandfrom one location to another to compensate for the decreased salivary flow. However, this may or may not work and alternative procedures like acupuncture can also be used to stimulate saliva formation.