Xerostomia, or dry mouth sensation, is the result of an inadequate flow of saliva. It is not a disease, but a symptom of a medical disorder or a side effect of certain medications. In this post we talk about the causes and treatments of dry mouth:
1) Saliva and its influence on health
Brushing your teeth and using mouthwash and flossing is essential to maintain proper oral hygiene. However, these procedures alone are not able to remove all microbes in the mouth. Collaboration of saliva is needed. Saliva is composed of a mixture of enzymes, nutrients and antibodies which act against pathogenic organisms. It’s also an ally in the working process of teeth and gums. Saliva enzymes initiates food digestion. Mainly, enzymes break down carbohydrates into smaller units and simple sugars. In fact these sugars are used by bacteria to feed and to produce acids, but saliva regulates the pH of the mouth avoiding the development of these acids.
Saliva is the mouth's main defense against tooth decay, as it breaks down food and other waste, neutralizes acids produced by bacteria in the mouth, and provides disease-fighting substances throughout the mouth. Without saliva, cavities and other diseases can progress very quickly. Besides this digestive and antibacterial function, saliva also consists of mineral ions, especially calcium and phosphate, which are the materials from which teeth are formed. Therefore, saliva helps to remineralize teeth and to repair small lesions in the enamel. The importance of saliva is such that the body produces about a liter a day, especially during meals. To generate the right amount of saliva it is very important to keep the body hydrated. At night, saliva production is stopped or minimized, which is why sometimes people wake up with their mouths completely dry and even with bad breath.
2) Causes of dry mouth
As we mentioned before, dry mouth is not a disease in itself, but a symptom that can be caused by a systemic disease or the side effect of certain medications or treatments:
2a) Sjögren's syndrome
In certain cases, dry mouth can be an indicator of Sjögren's syndrome. This syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disorder in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks its own glands that produce saliva and tears, as well as other organs. Sjögren's syndrome is not the only disease that can cause dry mouth: diabetes too.
2b) Dry mouth caused by medications
Some antihistamine, decongestant, analgesic, diuretic, antihypertensive or antidepressant medications can cause a certain dry mouth in their users.
2c) Other causes of xerostomia
In addition to systemic diseases and medications, dry mouth can also be caused by a problem in the salivary glands or by having continuous breathing through the mouth, something common during colds. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments can also cause xerostomia.
3) Problems related to dry mouth
Some of the common problems are associated with xerostomia:
- A) Constant dryness and sore throat: due to the lack of saliva, the mucous membranes that line the throat dry out, something that can cause discomfort
- B) Burning sensation in the mouth: the lack of lubrication in the mucous membranes can generate a burning sensation on the tongue, gums and cheeks.
- C) Dry nasal passages: The nasal passages can also become excessively dry from this problem.
- D) Hoarseness: the airways need lubrication in order to function properly, both physiologically and defensively.
- E) Doughy mouth: the decreased flow of saliva can cause it to be thicker and generate a doughy mouthfeel.
- F) Chapped lips: lips have to stay properly hydrated to maintain their healthy state.
- G) Sores: the lack of saliva causes the mucous membranes to be less protected against ulcers and canker sores.
- H) Higher incidence of cavities: as we mentioned, saliva is the body's main defense against cavities, so these can develop more easily if the flow of saliva decreases.
- I) Difficulty when speaking: inadequate mouth lubrication can make it difficult to pronounce words.
- J) Difficulty when swallowing: saliva helps the bolus to slide through the digestive system, so its absence can make this process difficult.
3k) Dry mouth and bad breath
A special mention space deserves the relationship between saliva and bad breath, something that we already mentioned in our article on halitosis: dry mouth is one of the most frequent causes of this problem. When there is not enough saliva, the remains of food are not removed, which usually generates a greater volume of plaque on the teeth and on the tongue, and its consequent bad smell.
4) How to treat dry mouth
To solve dry mouth problems, it is always advised to increase your water intake, although your dentist may recommend other methods to restore moisture.
Sugar-free candy or gum stimulates the flow of saliva, and moisture can be replaced through the use of artificial saliva and oral rinses. In the most extreme cases, the use of medications that stimulate saliva production may also be prescribed. If you suffer from a dry mouth, it is also advisable to reduce your intake of sugary or spicy foods, as well as reduce your consumption of alcohol and tobacco.
4a) Treatment of dry mouth in A Coruña
If you live in A Coruña and have problems with dry mouth or any other oral consideration, we will be happy to assist you in our dental medical clinic.