Having a dry mouth occasionally after making a speech or exercising vigorously is not a cause for concern, but a chronically dry mouth can be the sign of an underlying medical problem. It can also make life miserable by causing cracked lips, sores on the tongue, burning and tingling sensations in the mouth, difficulty chewing and swallowing, difficulty speaking, bad breath, dental cavities, and gum disease. If you suffer from dry mouth, it’s important to learn the cause and seek treatment if necessary.
Dry mouth, or xerostomia (pronounced zer-oh-stow-me-uh), is the result of too little saliva.
Although saliva is often taken for granted, it’s actually essential to good health. Saliva makes food easier to chew and swallow, and it makes food taste better by transporting it to the taste buds. Saliva contains enzymes that aid in digesting food, especially starchy foods. It also contains antibodies that protect the teeth from cavity-causing bacteria.
Saliva makes it easier to smile by providing lubrication between the cheeks and gums. Without adequate saliva, it’s difficult to speak clearly because the tongue is too dry to form certain sounds.
Saliva is produced in salivary glands located in the mouth and upper neck. Many factors can interfere with the production of saliva. The most common ones are:
- Medications, including antidepressants, blood pressure pills, muscle relaxants, antihistamines, painkillers, and chemotherapy drugs.
- Radiation treatments, surgery, or injuries that damage the salivary glands or the nerves that control them.
- Cysts, tumors, or stones that block the glands (which can produce stones similar to those produced in the kidneys and gallbladder).
- Diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and an autoimmune disease known as Sjogren’s (pronounced show-gren’s) syndrome.
If your mouth is chronically dry, it’s important to discuss it with your healthcare provider. A simple change in medication may eliminate the problem. If cysts, stones, or tumors are found, then surgery may be necessary to remove them. You may need tests to determine if you have Sjogren’s syndrome of other conditions that cause dry mouth.
If the cause of dry mouth can’t be eliminated, it can often be controlled with simple self-care measures. The Mayo Clinic recommends these steps:
- Take frequent sips of water or sugarless drinks throughout the day.
- Drink water with meals to help with chewing.
- Use sugar-free candy or gum to stimulate saliva flow.
- Don’t smoke or chew tobacco.
- Avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages, which can increase dryness.
- Ask your dentist or pharmacist about using an artificial saliva product. Experiment with different brands to find the ones that work best for you.
- Give extra attention to dental care by brushing and flossing regularly and getting regular dental cleanings.
- Avoid mouthwashes that contain alcohol.
- Use a humidifier at night while you sleep.
Dry mouth is a frustrating condition, but you can lessen its impact on your quality of life with these simple, inexpensive home remedies.