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Does your mouth often feel dry, even if you drink water regularly? You could have a condition known as dry mouth syndrome, or xerostomia. This is a common condition that affects around 10% of Australians and 25% of older people.
A dry mouth can feel uncomfortable, but reduced saliva production can also have more serious consequences for your oral health. In some cases, it may even be a warning sign of an underlying health problem.
If you’re concerned about a dry mouth, talk to your dentist. They will try to identify the cause and suggest treatments and home remedies.
What is dry mouth syndrome?
Dry mouth syndrome happens when the salivary glands in the mouth and throat produce less saliva than normal. This may be a temporary condition that resolves in time and with proper care or it may be permanent without active treatment.
As well as your mouth and tongue feeling dry, other symptoms of dry mouth syndrome can include:
- feeling thirsty, even after drinking
- thick or stringy saliva
- rough or sticky tongue
- burning sensation in the mouth
- sore throat or cough
- dry or cracked lips
- trouble swallowing, especially dry foods
- bad breath
- change in taste
- signs of tooth decay or gum disease
- mouth ulcers or oral thrush infections
- if you have dentures, they may lose suction and feel loose
Underlying health conditions that cause dry mouth may also cause dryness or itchiness in the eyes or nose, thrush infections, joint pains and constipation.
Talk to your dentist or doctor if you have some of these symptoms.
Why is a dry mouth a problem?
Saliva plays many important roles in your mouth. It lubricates food to help you eat and digest properly, helps you to experience taste and texture and can help with forming certain speech sounds.
Saliva also helps to prevent tooth decay and other oral diseases and infections by attacking bacteria, neutralising acids on your teeth and providing calcium and phosphate that help to heal damaged teeth.
If you are no longer producing as much saliva, you might start to notice signs of tooth decay, gum disease or other oral health problems.
If you have trouble chewing or swallowing, this may lead to digestive problems or even malnutrition.
What causes dry mouth?
Saliva function can be affected by many things and may be a temporary or long-term problem. Causes of dry mouth can include:
- Dehydration due to not drinking enough fluids, consuming too many alcoholic or soft drinks, chewing tobacco or a medical condition such as blood loss or kidney failure.
- Drugs and medications, including some antidepressants, antihistamines, decongestants, high blood pressure medications, sedatives and illegal drugs such as cocaine.
- Medical conditions including Sjögren’s syndrome, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, amyloidosis, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematous, among others.
- Infections such as mumps, oral thrush and hepatitis C.
- Respiratory issues such as blocked sinuses, mouth breathing and snoring disorders.
- Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy of the head or neck.
- Blockage of the salivary ducts by mineral deposits.
- Nerve damage to the head or neck.
- Anxiety, stress and hormone changes.
How is dry mouth treated?
Treatment for dry mouth should address the cause as well as the symptoms. Your dentist will ask about your medical history and any medications you’re taking that may be relevant.
They will also test your saliva and examine your teeth and mouth to determine whether you have any dental issues or other problems that may also need to be treated.
Depending on the cause, treatments for dry mouth may involve:
Modifying your diet
Drinking more fluids and avoiding substances that cause mouth dryness could be all it takes to resolve a dry mouth problem, or may reduce the severity of an existing dry mouth condition. Tips include:
- Drink plenty of water, especially tap water containing fluoride that helps to protect teeth
- Avoid or cut down on alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods
- Avoid dry and crunchy foods such as crackers and potato chips
- Eat chewy foods and chew gum between meals to stimulate saliva flow
- Choose foods with a high water content, such as whole fruits and vegetables
- Avoid sugary and acidic food and drink that contributes to tooth decay
Dry mouth products
Your dentist may provide a moisturising mouthwash, gel, toothpaste or saliva substitute to help relieve the symptoms of dry mouth.
Dry lips may be treated using a moisturiser or balm. Installing an air humidifier in your bedroom could help to reduce dry mouth symptoms at night.
These are usually short-term measures while other treatment is being provided, but they may be long-term in some cases.
Dry mouth is a side effect of many medications, but there may be an alternative to one you’re taking. Always talk to your doctor or other health professional for their advice and recommendations before making changes to your dose or medication.
If dry mouth is caused by an underlying health problem, this should be treated by the appropriate healthcare professional. Infections may be treated by antibiotics or anti-fungal medication, while existing health conditions may be managed to relieve dry mouth symptoms.
If dry mouth is caused by a physical blockage in the salivary glands or damaged nerves, minor surgery may be recommended. Surgical procedures involve clinical risks that your dentist or oral surgeon will make sure you understand before you agree to any treatment.
Improving your oral hygiene
Dry mouth syndrome increases the risk of developing tooth decay, gum disease and other oral health problems, so it’s important to follow good oral hygiene practices while treatment is ongoing. This can involve:
- Brushing your teeth twice a day, using a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste
- Flossing once a day
- Using a mouthwash (if recommended by your dentist)
- Quitting smoking
- Seeing your dentist for regular check-ups and hygiene treatments every 6 months or as often as they recommend
- If you wear dentures, cleaning them regularly and talking to your dentist about adhesives if they feel loose
Talk to a dentist in Kelmscott and Armadale
If you’re worried about a dry mouth or you want to see to a dentist about anything else, call Kelmscott Dental on (08) 9495 7999. You can also book an appointment online. We also serve all nearby Perth suburbs.