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Thick Saliva Causes and Remedies : Your Comprehensive Guide to Symptoms and Treatment

  1. Introduction

    1. What is Thick Saliva?

      Thick saliva, also known as viscous saliva or xerostomia, is an abnormal increase in the density or viscosity of saliva in the mouth. It leads to a reduction in the normal flow of saliva making it stickier, gel-like, and watery.

      Saliva is a thin watery fluid produced by the salivary glands. It is primarily composed of water, electrolytes, mucus, enzymes, and antibacterial agents.

      Under normal circumstances, saliva is thin and has watery consistency. This helps in facilitating speech, aids swallowing, and helps in maintaining oral health by cleansing the mouth and providing lubrication.

      Thick saliva deviates from the usual watery consistency as it gets more viscous, gel-like, stickier, and less fluid compared to normal saliva. Thick saliva can occur due to various conditions including certain medications, oral health issues, or any other underlying medical health condition. It may cause discomfort, difficulty in swallowing, speech problems, and other symptoms.

    2. Significance of Understanding the Causes and Treatment Options of Thick Saliva

      Having an understanding of the causes and treatment of thick saliva is significant for the following reasons: 

      • Knowing about the cause, the targeted treatment can be given.
      • Identifying the root cause helps in preventing potential complications and progression of the condition.
      • Knowing about the connection between the underlying health condition and thick saliva, early diagnosis and management gets easy.
      • If medications are the cause, healthcare providers can adjust the medications and explore alternative options to minimize the unwanted effects.
      • Thick saliva may lead to dental issues. Knowing about the causes and treatment, the individuals and the healthcare providers can implement preventive measures for maintaining oral health.
      • Thick saliva affects proper swallowing further affecting the nutrition intake and hydration. Knowing about the cause, strategies can be built to ensure proper nutrition and hydration.

      Understanding the causes of thick saliva empowers individuals to take an active role in their own healthcare and make informed decisions about lifestyle changes, medication adjustments, and seeking appropriate medical care. They can take steps to prevent the recurrence.

  2. Causes of Thick Saliva

    There are various causes of thick saliva:

    1. Dehydration

      Dehydration leads to thick saliva as a dehydrated body spares less water on saliva.

      Dehydration can occur due to various reasons, with the main cause being not drinking enough water and other fluids. It also occurs when a person loses enough fluids from the body due to sweating in hot weather or exercising.(1) A person also loses fluid through vomiting and diarrhea.

    2. Mouth Breathing

      Breathing primarily or completely through the mouth can thicken saliva.(2) This is because exposing the mouth to air causes it to dry.

    3. Cancer Treatment

      According to the American Cancer Society, chemotherapy and radiation therapy to the head and neck can thicken saliva.(3) These treatments cause damage to the glands that produce saliva. This decreases the production of saliva. The saliva dries out getting thicker and stickier.

    4. Sjogren Disease

      Sjogren disease is a serious autoimmune condition.(4) It occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly considers its own cells as harmful pathogens.

      This condition causes inflammation of the salivary gland. This can lead to a dry mouth and thicker saliva. Sjogren disease can also cause dryness of the lacrimal glands that produce tears.

    5. Cystic Fibrosis

      Cystic fibrosis is a genetic condition in which mucus build-up occurs in the lungs and the digestive system.

      Research shows that saliva production is reduced in cystic fibrosis.(5) This leads to thick saliva, inflamed and burning tongue, and problems with tasting and eating food.

    6. Medications

      Thick saliva can be a side effect of several medications. A study discussed how some medications reduced saliva production in 10% of cases.(2) These medications include: 

      • Anticholinergic agents such as atropine, and belladonna.
      • Antidepressants and antipsychotic agents such as citalopram.
      • Diuretics such as furosemide and chlorothiazide.
      • Blood pressure medications such as captopril and lisinopril.
      • Sedatives such as alprazolam and diazepam.
      • Muscle relaxants such as tizanidine and cyclobenzaprine.
      • Antihistamines such as chlorpheniramine and meclizine.
      • Anticholinergic agents given for overactive bladder.
  3. Symptoms Associated with Thick Saliva

    Symptoms associated with thick saliva include: 

    • Dryness, discomfort, and stickiness in the mouth
    • Facing difficulty in swallowing foods, liquids, and even saliva.
    • Pronunciation and articulation get affected leading to speech difficulties. This may cause slurred speech.
    • Sore throat and scratchy feeling in the throat.
    • There may be bacteria build-up that may lead to halitosis or bad breath.
    • Reduced lubrication may lead to dry and cracked lips that may contribute to the development of mouth sores.
    • High risk of tooth decay and gum disease is there is those with thick saliva.
    • The individuals may be more susceptible to oral infections.
    • There may be difficulty in wearing dentures.
    • The appetite would decrease or there would be reluctance to eat.
    • There may be an increased sensation of thirst.
  4. How to Diagnose Thick Saliva?

    The healthcare provider takes the medical history that includes any existing medical condition, medications, and any related symptoms.

    The doctor enquires about specific symptoms associated with thick saliva such as difficulty swallowing, speech problems, discomfort in the mouth, and any related concerns.

    A thorough examination of the mouth is done which includes the tongue, gums, cheek, and throat. A special tool is used to measure the rate at which the saliva is produced. The test is known as sialography or scintigraphy. It determines whether the reduced saliva flow is contributing to thick saliva.

    A blood test is ordered to check for any underlying medical health condition. Imaging tests including CT scans, MRI scans, or ultrasounds may be performed to get a closer look at the glands and surrounding tissues.

    If, in case a serious medical condition is suspected, a biopsy of the salivary gland tissue may be recommended.

  5. Treatment Options for Thick Saliva

    There are multiple ways in which thick saliva can be treated. 

    • Hydration and Lifestyle Changes: The individual should be encouraged to drink plenty of water and other hydrating fluids throughout the day. Humidifiers should be used in dry environments or during sleep.
    • Medication Adjustments: If certain medication is found to be causing thick saliva, alternative medication can be prescribed. Certain medications including pilocarpine or cevimeline can be prescribed for saliva stimulation.(6)
    • Oral Health Care: One should seek regular dental check-ups and cleanings to address any oral health condition. Oral hygiene should be maintained which includes regular brushing, flossing, and using an alcohol-free mouthwash.
    • Medical Intervention: Massaging the salivary gland may help stimulate the flow of saliva and improve its consistency. If thick saliva is caused due to salivary gland stones, the doctor performs a procedure to remove the obstruction.

    In extreme cases, surgical intervention such as duct rerouting or salivary gland duct ligation may be considered.

    • Artificial Saliva Products: Over-the-counter saliva substitutes or sprays can be helpful in providing relief from discomfort due to thick saliva.
    • Prescription Mouthwashes and Gels: Certain mouthwashes and gels aid lubrication and alleviate discomfort associated with thick saliva.
    • Tongue Scraping: This can be helpful in removing excess saliva and bacteria from the tongue, improving oral hygiene.
    • Avoiding Irritant: Avoiding the use of tobacco, alcohol, and spicy foods can be helpful in reducing irritation and promoting better saliva flow.
  6. When to Seek Medical Attention

    If someone experiences thick saliva, a general practitioner should be consulted to look for the root cause. If there is postnasal drip along with thick saliva and fever, wheezing, green, yellow, or bloody mucus with a strong odor, it is important to consult a doctor.

    If a person is dehydrated emergency medical attention should be looked for. The symptoms of dehydration include: 

  7. Conclusion

    Understanding the causes and treatment of thick saliva is important for maintaining oral health and overall well-being.

    Thick saliva is characterized by an abnormal increase in viscosity and can cause discomfort, difficulty in swallowing, speech challenges, and other symptoms. Treatment includes lifestyle adjustment and medical interventions.

    Seeking professional help is essential especially if symptoms persist or worsen. Proactive measures in managing saliva along with regular dental check-ups and oral hygiene practices can help an individual enjoy improved comfort, speech, and overall well-being.

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:September 19, 2023

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