An In Depth Look at Dry Mouth: Causes, Complications, and Treatment
We’ve all experienced a dry mouth at some point in time, but what happens when this becomes a regular occurrence?
Chronic dry mouth is not only uncomfortable, but it can also cause oral health problems if left untreated.
So if you suffer from dry mouth, speak with your dentist to help you find and treat the underlying cause. And take a look at the following causes of dry mouth, along with tips to prevent dry mouth at home.
What is Dry Mouth?
Dry mouth, also known medically as xerostomia or hyposalivation, is a condition that occurs when the glands that produce saliva are not working properly. As a result, you won’t have enough saliva to keep your mouth wet, and your mouth will become uncomfortably dry.
What Causes Dry Mouth?
There are many causes of dry mouth, including medications, stress, nutritional deficiencies, and systemic diseases. Your dentist can help you determine the cause of your dry mouth and find the appropriate treatment.
Some of the most common causes of dry mouth include:
Dehydration is a major contributor to dry mouth since you need enough water to help produce saliva. Besides not drinking enough water, dehydration can also be caused illness, excessive sweating, fever, medication, smoking, food, and alcohol.
Dry mouth is a common side effect of many prescription and non-prescription medications, including:
- Anxiety medication
- Blood pressure medications
- Medications for overactive bladder
- Medications for Parkinson’s disease
- Muscle relaxants
- Pain medication
Other Health Conditions
Along with medications, some health conditions can also cause dry mouth. These health conditions include:
- Autoimmune disorders, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjogren’s Syndrome
- Parkinson’s disease
Dry mouth can be caused by nerve damage in the head or neck resulting from surgery or an injury.
Dry mouth is fairly common in pregnancy since the body requires more water to help the baby develop. Pregnancy dry mouth can also be attributed to gestational diabetes and the changes in hormones that affect oral health.
Certain lifestyle choices, such as smoking or chewing tobacco, drinking alcohol, and eating sugary foods, can lead to dry mouth.
Risks of Long-Term Dry Mouth
Saliva helps wash away food particles and bacteria and protect teeth from infection and acid wear on enamel. So, without enough saliva, persistent dry mouth can lead to oral health problems if left untreated.
Along with being uncomfortable and causing bad breath, complications of dry mouth include:
Since there is less saliva to clean away harmful bacteria in the mouth, dry mouth can lead to an increase in plaque buildup on the teeth and gums. When this happens, it can irritate the gums, causing inflammation and infection, also known as gingivitis or gum disease.
Without the cleansing effects of saliva, a dry mouth will be more susceptible to tooth decay since more bacteria, food particles, and acid will be present to wear down tooth enamel.
A dry mouth will irritate the soft tissues in your mouth, which can cause inflammation and an increased risk of infection.
Difficulty Wearing Dentures
If you don’t have enough saliva in your mouth, wearing dentures can become very difficult and uncomfortable. And as a result, you may have trouble speaking and eating properly.
How to Remedy Dry Mouth
Your dentist can help treat your dry mouth by prescribing medications to increase saliva production and treat any other problems associated with dry mouth.
However, there are also some steps you can take on your own to help improve the condition.
Here are some tips for getting rid of dry mouth at home:
Drink Plenty of Water
Since dry mouth can be caused by dehydration, it’s important to drink plenty of water each day. Staying hydrated will increase your saliva production and help you maintain your overall health.
Drinking water, especially after eating, will also help wash away food particles and prevent oral health problems.
Suck on Sugar-Free Hard Candy
Sucking on sugarless hard candies or mints will help stimulate the flow of saliva and relieve dry mouth temporarily. You should stick with sugar-free candy since sugar contributes to tooth decay, and your teeth will already be at risk of tooth decay because of your dry mouth.
Chew Sugar-Free Gum
Like sugar-free candy, chewing sugar-free gum will also help stimulate saliva production and ease your symptoms of dry mouth for a while. Look for a sugar-free gum that contains xylitol—a sugar substitute—to help prevent cavities.
Mint, citrus, and cinnamon flavors are good choices for sugar-free candy and gum to help stimulate saliva production.
Stick with Decaffeinated Drinks
Since caffeine can dry out your mouth and worsen the symptoms of dry mouth, try to stick with decaffeinated beverages as much as possible. More specifically, look for caffeine-free teas and opt for decaf coffee.
If you need a pick-me-up in the morning, eat a healthy breakfast with energy boosting foods that help fight fatigue, such as almonds, blueberries, and oats.
Breathe Through Your Nose
Breathing through your mouth will naturally dry it out faster. So when in a resting state, try to only breathe through your nose. And if you have trouble doing so because of allergies or persistent congestion, speak with your doctor to resolve the breathing issue and help your dry mouth.
How to Prevent Dry Mouth in the First Place
To avoid having dry mouth occur in the first place, follow these tips:
Brush and Floss Regularly
Following a good oral hygiene routine is key for a healthy mouth. And since dry mouth can be both a cause of and a result of poor oral hygiene, it’s important to follow a routine of flossing daily and brushing at least twice a day to avoid this uncomfortable condition.
Drink Enough Water
Since staying hydrated is a top cure for dry mouth, you can help prevent it altogether by drinking eight glasses of water a day, or the recommended 3 liters of water for men and 2.2 liters of water for women.
Use Alcohol-Free Mouthwash
Mouthwash with alcohol can reduce the moisture in your mouth and cause dry mouth symptoms. However, there are alcohol-free mouthwashes available that will kill bacteria without drying out your mouth.
Use a Humidifier in Your Home
Breathing in dry air can lead to or worsen symptoms of dry mouth. So consider using a humidifier in your home to add moisture to the air and prevent dry mouth, especially when you sleep.
Place the humidifier in the rooms you use most often, such as your bedroom, living room, or office.
Avoid Caffeinated Beverages, Tobacco, and Alcohol
If you’re a smoker, coffee drinker, or beer/wine/spirits lover, consider cutting back or quitting altogether to avoid symptoms of dry mouth. Caffeine, alcohol, and smoking can all dehydrate your body and contribute to dry mouth.
The best cure for dry mouth is treating its underlying cause. But dry mouth can be caused by so many things.
So, if you suffer from dry mouth, visit your dentist to find and treat the underlying cause of this uncomfortable condition and get the relief you need.
Taking steps to relieve dry mouth and prevent it from occurring will help you stay healthy and hydrated, help your mouth feel comfortable, and avoid oral health problems that can worsen over time.