Dry mouth, or xerostomia, is characterized by an insufficient amount of saliva. Saliva, produced by the salivary glands, is crucial to oral health and normal functioning, moistening and lubricating the mouth, producing digestive enzymes, and neutralizing bacterial acids. There are many reasons that a patient may develop a dry mouth, from lifestyle habits to disease conditions to medications.
Causes of Dry Mouth
Older patients are more at risk for the condition. Reasons for dry mouth include:
- Chemotherapy drugs
- Radiation of head and neck
- Nerve damage
- Sjogren's syndrome or HIV/AIDS
- Tobacco or methamphetamine use
- Mouth breathing
The list of medications that can interfere with normal saliva production is long and includes antihistamines, decongestants, and antidepressants.
Individuals who do not produce an adequate supply of saliva may experience:
- Dry mouth or throat
- Thick, stringy saliva
- Difficulty chewing, speaking, or swallowing
- Problems with dentures
- Frequent tooth decay
- Gum irritation or disease
Patients with dry mouth may also experience bad breath and altered taste.
After a thorough physical and oral examination, a full medical history, including a list of all medications taken, must be obtained. Blood tests, imaging scans of the salivary glands, and tests to measure saliva output may also be administered. If Sjogren's syndrome is suspected, a biopsy of salivary or lip cells may also be taken.
There are several treatments for dry mouth, depending on the cause of the condition and its severity. These include:
- Altering medications
- Using lubricating mouth rinses
- Taking saliva-stimulating medications
Patients with severely dry mouths may be instructed to use a rinse or fluoride trays to keep cavity-causing bacteria at bay.
Though not a serious condition in and of itself, dry mouth, left untreated, can be a precursor of more serious disorders, including tooth decay, periodontal disease, fungal infections of the mouth, and in severe cases, poor nutrition.