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Dry mouth can be a nuisance, as it causes a feeling of dryness or stickiness. Understanding the symptoms and causes of dry mouth may help you prevent this unpleasant condition.
Known as xerostomia among healthcare professionals, dry mouth develops when the salivary glands in your mouth fail to produce enough saliva. Reduced saliva may be the result of a wide variety of causes – some of which you can control and others you cannot. Depending on the cause, symptoms of dry mouth can vary from person to person, and even from day to day.
Why Is Saliva Important?
The salivary glands in your mouth make saliva 24 hours a day, every day of the week. Salivary glands are located on the inside of both cheeks, on the bottom of your mouth, and under your jaw at the very front of your mouth. Your salivary glands produce about 2 to 4 pints of saliva into your mouth each day.
It Wets Your Food
Saliva wets your food to make it easier to swallow and it makes food taste better. Saliva acts as a solvent that dissolves the flavorful chemicals in food, which makes it easier for your taste buds to detect the flavors. Without saliva, even the most delicious food would seem too dry and bland to be appealing.
Saliva Bathes Your Teeth and Mouth in Healthy Chemicals
Made mostly of water, saliva also contains a few chemicals. Saliva contains electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphates and bicarbonate, for example, along with immunoglobulins, proteins, enzymes, mucins, urea and ammonia. Some of these chemicals keep bacteria and other unhealthy microbes in your mouth under control. A few chemicals aid in digestion. Others control acidity or keep teeth strong.
Symptoms of Dry Mouth
Certain signs and symptoms can indicate that your salivary glands are not producing enough saliva to benefit your oral health. These signs and symptoms may come and go, or persist for several days or longer. Signs and symptoms of dry mouth include:
- Feelings of dryness or stickiness in your mouth
- Saliva that seems too stringy or thick
- Foul-smelling breath
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, and speaking due to dry lips, mouth, or oral cavity
- Dry or sore throat
- Dry tongue
- Grooved tongue, which features deep cracks or fissures on the surface of your tongue
- A changed sense of taste
- Problems wearing dentures, such as dentures that fit loosely, irritation, sores, and possible infections; it is important to note that dentures do not cause dry mouth, but dry mouth can cause these problems for denture wearers
- If you wear lipstick, dry mouth may cause your lipstick to stick to your teeth
What Causes Dry Mouth?
When your salivary glands do not produce enough saliva, you can develop dry mouth. Salivary glands may not make enough saliva to keep your mouth wet for a variety of reasons. You may have xerostomia from one or more of the following causes.
Dry mouth is a common side effect of more than 1,100 prescription and over-the-counter medications, according to the American Academy of Oral Medicine. Among these, the most likely to cause dry mouth are medications to treat depression, high blood pressure, and anxiety. Some antihistamines, decongestants, pain medications, and muscle relaxants can also cause dry mouth.
Many people experience dry mouth as they age. The use of certain medications and age-related changes in the body’s ability to process those medications can cause dry mouth, for example, as can inadequate nutrition and having long-term health problems.
Certain cancer medications and chemotherapy can change the nature of saliva and the amount produced by the salivary glands. Radiation treatment to your neck or head can damage your salivary glands in a way that reduces the production of saliva. Sometimes these effects are temporary and salivary flow returns to normal after the completion of treatment; this often depends on the dose and area treated.
Trauma to the head or neck can damage the nerves that provide sensation to the mouth, which can result in the feeling of a dry mouth.
Other Health Conditions
Dry mouth may be the result of certain health conditions, such as stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and the oral yeast infection known as thrush. Autoimmune diseases, such as HIV/AIDS or Sjogren’s syndrome can cause dry mouth. Even snoring or breathing with your mouth open can contribute to xerostomia.
Tobacco and Alcohol Use
Alcohol works as a diuretic that makes you urinate frequently, which means there are less available fluids for the production of saliva. Drinking alcohol in large quantities can even change your salivary flow rate, which is the rate at which your salivary glands produce saliva. The nicotine in tobacco products reduces salivary flow too.
Recreational Drug Use
Some recreational drugs can cause severe dry mouth. Both marijuana and methamphetamines can cause dry mouth, for example.
If you experience dry mouth frequently or for long periods, consult with Westerville Dental Associates. Our team of dentists can help you determine if your symptoms are the result of dry mouth, and we can help you discover the underlying causes of your dry mouth. For more information on dry mouth, including its diagnosis and treatment, give Westerville Dental Associates a call today!