If you’re having a sticky, dry feeling in the mouth along with frequent thirst, you might be suffering from a common condition known as dry mouth or xerostomia. Everyone gets dry mouth from time to time but the problem begins when it’s persistent and doesn’t go away, even after taking in more fluids.
Dry mouth is characterized by an inadequate flow of saliva in the mouth. When we don’t make enough saliva, our mouth gets dry and uncomfortable. We feel a burning sensation and a dry sticky feeling in the mouth. It also accompanies frequent thirst and trouble chewing, swallowing, and even speaking. Dry mouth can be a nuisance and can lead to many problems if it’s left untreated. Hence, treatment should be sought immediately if you feel your dry mouth is persistent.
Saliva saves the day!
To understand the condition of dry mouth and its causes, let’s take a look at the role of saliva and how it protects against this condition. Saliva, which is often taken for granted, is the body’s primary defense mechanism against bacteria and infections. It flushes away food particles and debris from the teeth, fights bacteria that cause tooth decay and other diseases, and neutralizes acids produced from bacteria in the mouth. And when the teeth lose their minerals due to acid attacks from bacteria, the saliva restores the lost minerals and prevents tooth damage.
The lubricating properties of saliva also protect the mouth from ulcers and sores that can occur because of friction involved in chewing and speaking. Hence, when the body doesn’t produce enough saliva, it not only leads to dry mouth but also to many other oral problems.
What causes dry mouth?
Dry mouth is usually the result of an underlying condition. Some common causes include:
– Side effects of medications: dry mouth is the side effect of over 400 medications including anti-allergies, antidepressants, blood pressure medicines, diuretics, anti-inflammatories, narcotics and many others.
– Side effect of medical treatments: some treatments like radiation therapy for cancer can cause dry mouth.
– Dehydration: dehydration due to low consumption of fluids, injuries, or nausea and vomiting can cause dry mouth.
– Symptom of some disease: some diseases like diabetes include a symptom of dry mouth.
– Salivary gland diseases: autoimmune diseases or infections can affect the body’s salivary glands leading to a decreased production of saliva.
– Smoking: smoking can lead to many problems including dry mouth.
Why is dry mouth a problem?
If dry mouth isn’t a disease, why is it a problem? Why do you need to treat it? That’s because dry mouth is the cause of many other oral problems that can even lead to permanent tooth damage and gum diseases. Due to decreased saliva production, there is no defense against bacteria in the mouth. The bacteria uses the food debris stuck in the teeth to produce acid, which attacks the tooth enamel and damages it. Without an effective defense mechanism and the re-mineralization properties of saliva, the constant acid attacks lead to tooth decay, which eventually leads to cavities and permanent tooth damage. When cavities get deeper, they even damage the pulp and may lead to tooth loss.
Moreover, when there isn’t enough saliva to fight against bacteria and flush the food particles away, it leads to the formation of dental plaque and tartar, which are the harbor grounds for bacteria. Because of bacteria buildup, the gums may pull away from the teeth and become red and swollen. Pockets may form in the gums, eventually leading to gum disease.
Dry mouth also causes bad breath that can be very uncomfortable and can affect the self-confidence and self-esteem of a person.
How to treat dry mouth?
To treat dry mouth, you first need to diagnose the cause behind it. If it’s a side effect of a medicine or a medical treatment, you need to talk to your doctor. If it’s caused by dehydration, try taking in more fluids. If your salivary glands aren’t producing enough saliva because of a disease or condition, talk to your dentist about using some saliva substitute or saliva stimulant.
Here are some things you can try yourself to treat the condition of dry mouth:
– Drink more water and keep yourself hydrated.
– Suck on sugar free sweets or sugar free gum.
– Suck on ice cubes.
– Avoid alcohol including alcohol based mouthwashes, smoking, and caffeine.
Hence, with the correct diagnosis of dry mouth, you can easily make a plan for treatment.