Having difficulty speaking, eating, and swallowing? Under stress, upset, or taking medications? These combinations place people at risk for a painful condition known as dry mouth, according to an article in the August 2009 issue of AGD Impact, the Academy of General Dentistry's (AGD) monthly newsmagazine.
Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is caused by a decrease in the amount of saliva in the mouth when salivary glands do not work properly. Saliva, the mouth's natural defense mechanism, plays an important role in preventing tooth decay by rinsing away food particles, neutralizing harmful acids, digesting food, and keeping oral tissues healthy.
While dry mouth may be a sign of a serious health condition, it can also be caused by aging, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, medications, or disease.
"More than 400 prescriptions and over the counter drugs are known to cause dry mouth," says John Kokai, DDS, MAGD, AGD spokesperson. He notes that others affected by this disease include patients with autoimmune diseases, diabetes, cancer of the salivary glands, and alcoholism, as well as people who simply do not drink enough water.
Sufferers may experience extensive dental decay; infections of the tissues of the mouth; difficulty in speaking, eating and swallowing; mouth sores; an altered sense of taste; and difficulty wearing dentures.
"Your dentist can help identify medications that may be responsible for causing dry mouth," says Dr. Kokai. "They may recommend home remedies such as sucking on ice chips, sucking on sugar-free hard candy or chewing gum, and rinsing with a mixture of baking soda and water."
Applying sealants to teeth can help protect against cavities brought on by tooth decay. If the problem becomes serious, a dentist can prescribe medication to help treat the problem.
To ease dry mouth pain
Brush and floss twice a day
Chew sugar-free gum
Avoid alcohol and caffeine
Avoid overly salty foods
Drink plenty of water
Avoid acidic juices (i.e., tomato, orange, grapefruit)
Avoid dry foods, such as toast or crackers
Use over-the-counter moisture replacement therapies
Visit the dentist regularly
Reviewed: January 2012