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Dry Mouth: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

What is dry mouth syndrome?

Dry mouth, or xerostomia, refers to an oral condition in which the salivary glands in your mouth don’t produce enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. As we age, our salivary glands do not produce as much saliva.

Salivary glands

Dry mouth occurs when salivary glands do not produce enough salivaWe have three major pairs of salivary glands that produce saliva in order to keep the mouth moist and lubricate the passageway of food from the mouth— to the throat — into the stomach.
 

What is saliva made of?

Saliva is 98% water. The remaining two percent is comprised of electrolytes, antibacterial compounds, and various enzymes.

Dry mouth symptoms

Having a dry mouth can be problematic, painful, and even embarrassing

Saliva serves many functions including helping us to talk, taste, and digest our food. Additionally, saliva helps prevent tooth decay by neutralizing acids produced by bacteria from eating and drinking as well as helps to wash away food particles from our teeth.
 
If we don’t make enough saliva, you may notice a combination of signs and symptoms that can range from being merely a nuisance to something that impacts not only your oral health but general health. Listed below are some of the most commons signs and symptoms you may notice in the mouth.

  • Dryness or a feeling of stickiness inside your mouth (aka cottonmouth)
  • Increased redness and bleeding of your gums while brushing and/or flossing
  • Bad breath
  • Saliva that seems thick and stringy
  • Dry or coated tongue
  • Altered sense of taste
  • Problems wearing dentures, retainers, mouthguard, teeth whitening trays, etc

Additionally, people who suffer from dry mouth may experience difficulty and possibly pain while chewing, speaking, and/or swallowing their food which can make social engagements uncomfortable. And for women, a dry mouth may result in lipstick sticking to the visible surfaces of the teeth.
 
If you experience or suspect that you may have a dry mouth it is best to seek an evaluation from your dentist or medical doctor. Call (763)586-9988 to schedule an appointment at Dentistry for the Entire Family.

 

Why is my mouth so dry?

Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is an oral condition that becomes more prevalent with age due to the rise of underlying medical conditions and treatments including:

  • Use of certain medications
  • Cancer therapy
  • Underlying long-term health problems like diabetes or autoimmune diseases
  • Tobacco and alcohol use

Side effects of medications often cause dry mouthMedications. Hundreds of medications, including many over-the-counter drugs, list dry mouth as a common side effect. The most popular offenders include medications taken for high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, some antihistamines/decongestants, muscle relaxants, and pain medications.
 
Cancer therapy. Chemotherapy drugs can change the saliva chemistry and the amount produced. This may be temporary until treatment is completed. Radiation treatments to your head and neck can permanently damage and/or alter salivary gland function and production depending upon the radiation dose and area treated.
 
Underlying long-term health problems. Having an underlying and/or chronic health condition can also cause a dry mouth. Examples of long-term conditions may include:

  • Diabetes
  • History of stroke
  • Nerve damage
  • Autoimmune disorder

Tobacco and alcohol use. Smoking, tobacco, vaping, and drinking alcohol can cause a dry mouth.

Dry mouth treatment

Dry mouth treatment begins with a diagnosis from either your primary care doctor or by your dentist.
 
Diagnosis from primary care doctor
To determine the cause of your dry mouth, your doctor will likely review your medical history, dental history, as well as perform an oral examination. The approach and exam will vary depending upon who you see first for an examination.
 
Having a dry mouth can negatively impact social activitiesIf you see your primary care doctor and they suspect your dry mouth may be from an underlying medical condition, they may order:

  • Blood tests
  • Imaging scans of your salivary glands
  • Saliva chemistry tests that measure how much saliva you produce.

Once a diagnosis has been established, treatment options can be discussed. Most dry mouth treatment includes a combination of prescription-based products alongside changes in lifestyle.
 
Diagnosis from dentist
If you see your dentist first they to will review your medical and dental history and will likely update any dental x rays to look for:

Additionally, your dentist and/or dental hygienist will discuss applicable lifestyle, dietary, and personal home care recommendations to help you manage dry mouth symptoms including:

  • Prescription strength topically applied fluoride
  • Recommend switching to an electric toothbrush
  • Abstain from using oral care products containing Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
  • Recommend more frequent preventive care visits, every 3-4 months

All of which help to reduce your risk for developing tooth decay and periodontal disease. Your dentist may advise you to schedule a follow up with your medical doctor to discuss medications that are known to exacerbate dry mouth and will likely discuss applicable lifestyle changes to help minimize the potential side effects often associated with having a dry mouth.

Simply increasing your daily water intake will not resolve your dry mouth

A common misconception associated with dry mouth we hear from patients is that they’ll just “drink more water throughout the day”. At best, this will provide temporary relief from symptoms associated with dry mouth and fails to address the underlying or root cause for why you have a dry-mouth. Water also does not contain any lubricants or moisturizers to help relieve symptoms which is why dry mouth treatment almost always includes using one or more artificial saliva products.

Artificial saliva

Oasis is a popular spray to help relieve dry mouth symptoms.Artificial saliva is available in prescription and over-the-counter in several forms, including:

  • Oral spray
  • Oral mouthwash
  • Oral gel
  • Oral lozenges/melts

Dry mouth spray

Oasis is one of many available over-the-counter dry mouth sprays available. Oral sprays can be used several times throughout the day and are convenient to carry with you on the go.
 
Sprays contains moisturizers and/or a lubricant to help relieve dry mouth symptoms in your mouth and throat. Ingredients vary among different manufacturers so we highly recommend for you to read and use instructions for use by the manufacturer.
 

Mouthwash for dry mouth

Biotene is our top pick for an over-the-counter mouthwash. Biotene kills bacteria and moisturizes for up to four hours. Similar mouthwashes like Biotene can and are often used in conjunction with other products.
 
Other popular brands available include:

  • Oasis
  • Therabreath
  • Ora Coat
  • Mouth Kote

Dry mouth oral gel

Biotene mouthwash for dry mouth helps relieve dry mouth symptomsSpecially formulated oral gels are popular for mouth breathers and are often applied at bedtime. In effect, dry mouth gels create a physical coating that helps to keep oral tissues moist for several hours.
 

Dry mouth lozenges

Dry mouth lozenges are a convenient and discreet way for relieving dry mouth symptoms while on the go. Lozenges are sugar-free and help to stimulate production of saliva. In addition to using over the counter products, there are a number of home remedies available. Listed below are a few additional options and tips for how you can help relieve symptoms.

 

Home remedies for dry mouth

In addition to the advice from your doctor, listed below are additional tips that may help relieve your dry mouth symptoms:

  • Chew sugar-free gum and/or suck on sugar-free hard candy to help stimulate the flow of saliva.
  • Use alcohol-free, antibacterial mouthrinse. Products containing alcohol can exacerbate dryness.
  • Sip water frequently to keep oral tissues hydrated and prevent cottonmouth.
  • Stop all tobacco use including use of electronic cigarettes and jouling. All exacerbate dryness.
  • Use an over-the-counter saliva substitute.
  • Switch toothbrush from soft to extra-soft toothbrush to minimize gum irritation while toothbrushing.
  • Breathe through your nose, not your mouth which can exacerbate a dry mouth.
  • Use a room humidifier while you sleep to help prevent a dry mouth.
  • Avoid sugary or acidic foods and drinks because these increase your risk for developing tooth decay.

Summary

Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia is a condition that commonly affects people over 55 years old. Medications are one of the most common causes for dry mouth. Sipping water throughout the day in addition to a meticulous daily oral care routine will help temporarily to relieve symptoms and help reduce your risk for developing tooth decay between preventive dental visits.
 
And finally, If you’ve tried some of the above steps and/or suspect that your dry mouth may be a result of an undiagnosed or underlying condition, don’t hesitate to call (763) 586-9988 to schedule an appointment.
 
 

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1099 East Moore Lake Drive

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