What is Xerostomia or Dry Mouth?

Xerostomia or dry mouth is a medical condition that results from improper functioning of the salivary glands. A person having dry mouth usually faces difficulty in speaking and eating food. They are also more prone to mouth infections, bad breath and other mouth problems resulting due to lack of saliva.

Xerostomia or dry mouth is not a rare condition and it usually occurs due to side effect from certain medicine. A simple alteration in the medicines or dosage can provide relief from xerostomia or dry mouth. It can also occur when feeling frightened, stressed or emotionally disturbed.

A common misconception about xerostomia or dry mouth is that it is one of the ageing problem. It is true that it is commonly seen in older adults but the reasons is not ageing but increased intake of medications with age. Xerostomia or dry mouth may also be an indication of some major systemic disease including sjogren's syndrome, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, hypothyroidism, sarcoidosis, systemic lupus erythematosusamyloidosis or parkinson's. A disease which effects all the parts of a body is referred as a systemic disease.

What is Xerostomia or Dry Mouth?

The most important thing about xerostomia or dry mouth is that it is not actually a disease but a symptom to indicate that something is wrong in the body.

Is Dry Mouth Dangerous to Your Health?

It is best to get treated if you have xerostomia or dry mouth as it can cause a lot of health problems including gum diseases, tooth decay, digestion problems etc..

What is the Cause of Lack of Saliva?

There are many causes for lack of saliva which will be discussed in the causes section of the article, but usually intake of certain medicines and few treatment therapies such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy causes it.

What Causes Xerostomia or Dry Mouth at Night?

The primary cause of xerostomia or dry mouth at night is mouth breathing, dry atmosphere can also be another cause.

What Causes Xerostomia or Dry Mouth?

Following are the main causes that may result into xerostomia or dry mouth:

  • Treatment therapies for cancer causes xerostomia or dry mouth. The two main therapies including chemotherapy and radiotherapy can result into dry mouth. These therapies can cause damage to salivary glands and cause it to malfunction producing less saliva.
  • Side effect of medicines are the most common cause xerostomia or dry mouth. There are many medications such as decongestants, high blood pressure medications, muscle relaxants, parkinson's disease medications, antidepressants, urinary continence drugs etc.. are known to cause the condition of dry mouth with many patients.
  • Another cause can be an injury to head or neck. Sometimes, an injury to neck or head can damage nerves that may cause xerostomia or dry mouth.
  • Age is not directly responsible for causing xerostomia or dry mouth but the frequent need to take medications with the increasing age can make older adults more prone to this condition.
  • Tobacco: Intake of tobacco in any form including smoking and chewing can cause various types of mouth problems including mouth cancer as well as xerostomia or dry mouth.
  • Dehydration: Dry mouth can also be caused due to lack of fluids in body forcing salivary glands to release less saliva.
  • Physical activities in hot environment. When you are exercising or playing under the sun or in heat, there is a high probability to body fluids getting concentrated or lost which can lead to xerostomia or dry mouth. Physical activities for a short duration are not usually a problem.

Symptoms of Xerostomia or Dry Mouth

There are many symptoms to indicate the medical condition of xerostomia or dry mouth. The most common symptoms of dry mouth are as follows:

  • Bad odor from mouth while you breathe or speak.
  • Cracking of the lips from cheeks on the corners or at the inner lining. It is also known as Cheilitis.
  • A symptom of xerostomia or dry mouth which is seen is that the patient is unable to perceive the taste of the food properly.
  • Sore throat.
  • Occurrence of mouth infections usually fungal infections.
  • Feeling of pain in tongue also referred as glossodynia.
  • Unusual increase in thirst usually when you are asleep at night is also a symptom of xerostomia or dry mouth.
  • Increased frequency of diseases related to gums.
  • Increased chances of plaque and decay of tooth.
  • Difficulty in speaking.
  • Difficulty in chewing and swallowing food usually that is dry and hard.
  • Saliva tends to become thick and sticky and stringy.

Tests to Diagnose Xerostomia or Dry Mouth

A doctor or dentist suspecting for the condition of xerostomia or dry mouth starts by inspecting the mouth and considering the medical history of the patient. It is usually followed by some imaging methods and blood tests to detect any problems with salivary glands. Some of the tests and procedures are as follows:

  • Sialometry test is used to diagnose xerostomia or dry mouth. It is a common test for detecting the condition of dry mouth. In this test, the rate of saliva released by salivary glands is measured after stimulating its emission by use of citric acid.
  • Saliography for xerostomia or dry mouth methods is used to create an image of the salivary glands using radiographic. The doctors or the experts may look at the images to detect any unusual mass of tissue or stones in salivary glands.
  • Another test is biopsy which involves analysis of a small tissue from the salivary glands in the mouth to detect any problems.

It is also noticed that some patients may experience symptoms of xerostomia or dry mouth in spite of moist oral mucosa while the situation can be completely opposite in some patients who may not experience any symptoms at all.

Treatment for Xerostomia or Dry Mouth

There are various treatment options available for xerostomia or dry mouth and the choice of a specific option mainly depends on the causes of the problem. Thus, medications or treatment methods follows the results of the tests to detect the causes. The most important thing with the treatment of xerostomia or dry mouth is to increase production of saliva and avoid problems of mouth resulting due to lack of saliva release.

  • Alteration in medications can treat xerostomia or dry mouth. If it is suspected that specific medications are causing the condition of dry mouth, a doctor would simply try to change the prescription or change the dosage of the current medications.
  • Medications to stimulate saliva production is also used for treatment. Medications for treatment of xerostomia or dry mouth usually include cevimeline (Evoxac), pilocarpine (Salagen) etc that help in increased production and release of saliva by salivary glands.

Home Remedies for Xerostomia or Dry Mouth

What can you do for dry mouth? Some simple home remedies are also helpful in getting rid of symptoms of xerostomia or dry mouth. It includes remedies that can be tried at home:

  • Keep your mouth moist to manage xerostomia or dry mouth. There are several ways that you can try at home to keep your mouth hydrated.
  • A good home remedy for xerostomia or dry mouth is chewing sugar-free gum. Sugar free candies and gums are also very helpful in keeping your mouth moist but they must not be consumed in large amounts as they can cause cramps or diarrhea.
  • Avoid breathing by mouth. Sometimes breathing through mouth instead of nose can also cause drying of mouth. You can control this by taking treatment for snoring.
  • Another home remedy for xerostomia or dry mouth is to keep your room humid. If the air that you breath is dry, there is an increased chances of dry mouth. You can make your room humid by using room humidifier.
  • Some medications that stimulate saliva production are available over the counter without any need of prescription.
  • Avoid intake of alcohol and caffeine. Products containing caffeine and alcohol such as mouthwash can also lead to drying of mouth. They must be avoided.
  • Quit chewing or smoking tobacco. Tobacco products can cause your mouth to dry out and also lead to various mouth disorders. Thus, intake of tobacco must be avoided in all forms.
  • Avoid decongestants and antihistamines to manage xerostomia or dry mouth. These medications usually make the symptoms worse and must be avoided if you are facing this medical condition.
  • Avoid food items rich in acids and sugars. Food items containing sugar can make you prone to mouth problems in the lack of saliva. Same is the case with acidic foods.
  • Another great home remedy for xerostomia or dry mouth is to replace your normal toothpaste with a fluoride toothpaste. Xerostomia or dry mouth increases the risk of tooth decay that cannot be protected by normal toothpaste. Refer to your doctor for a good toothpaste with fluoride. Certain tooth gel are also helpful in getting rid of acids produced in mouth by bacteria.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: June 6, 2017

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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