Prescription and over-the-counter medications are the most common cause of dry mouth. In fact, more than 400 medications can contribute to mouth dryness. The most common troublemakers are antihypertensives, antidepressants, painkillers, tranquilizers, diuretics, and antihistamines.
Dry mouth may be a sign of a serious health condition or may occur when a person is upset or experiences stress. It also can be caused by radiation therapy and chemotherapy, hormonal alterations or diseases such as AIDS, diabetes, or Sjögren's syndrome. Patients with Alzheimer's disease or those who suffer a stroke may experience dry mouth. Approximately 30 percent of persons over the age of 65 are affected by dry mouth.
Can dry mouth cause health problems?
Yes. You want to prevent dry mouth if possible, because it can cause difficulty in tasting, chewing, or swallowing. It also allows plaque to build up on your teeth faster, leading to a higher risk of cavities. In certain cases, a lack of moisture can make your tongue become very sensitive, causing a condition called burning mouth syndrome. Dry mouth can also lead to bad breath, ulceration or soreness of the mouth, gum disease, and difficulty in wearing dentures.
Why is saliva important?
Saliva helps wash away cavity-causing bacteria, provides enzymes to help digest food, protects teeth from decay by neutralizing harmful acids, and keeps oral tissues healthy. Without saliva you would lose your teeth much faster.
What is Sjögren's syndrome?
Sjögren's syndrome is an autoimmune disease in which a person's white blood cells attack their own moisture-producing glands. Approximately 4 million Americans have this condition. The majority of sufferers are women who are in their late 40s at the time of diagnosis.
Sjögren's syndrome is difficult to diagnose because symptoms vary greatly. Patients may experience dryness in the eyes and mouth, fatigue, or joint pain, and it also mimics the natural signs of aging.
How can my dentist help?
Your dentist will want to know if you have difficulty swallowing or speaking, oral soreness, or a dry throat. Help your dentist to diagnose the problem by paying close attention to the symptoms associated with dry mouth. If you have any questions about this condition, ask your dentist.
There are many treatments that can help ease the symptoms of dry mouth, including over-the-counter saliva substitutes. To ease discomfort, your dentist may also recommend the following:
Brush and floss twice a day
Chew sugar-free gum
Avoid alcohol and caffeine
Avoid acidic juices (i.e., tomato, orange, grapefruit)
Avoid dry foods, such as toast or crackers
Avoid overly salty foods
Drink plenty of water
Regular dentist visits
Reviewed: January 2012