What is Xerostomia?

woman with signs of Xerostomia

Does your mouth feel like the Sahara Desert? Do you often have a cottony feeling in your mouth? Do you find yourself frequently swallowing to try and get rid of the dryness? If so, you may be suffering from xerostomia, or dry mouth. Dry mouth is a condition that affects many people, but most don’t even know they have it! In this blog post, we will discuss more about xerostomia and ways to improve or fix dry mouth. Stay tuned for more information on this important topic!

What is Xerostomia?

Xerostomia is the medical term for dry mouth. It occurs when there is a decrease in saliva production. As a result, you may experience:

  • increased thirst

  • cracked lips

  • a raw tongue

  • cracked corners of the mouth

  • mouth feeling sticky and dry

  • hoarseness

  • bad breath

  • sore throat

  • trouble speaking, chewing, or tasting

  • altered taste

  • sores in the mouth

  • inability to retain dentures

Xerostomia can occur in varying degrees from mild to severe. This means that you may only experience a few symptoms or you may regularly experience a multitude of symptoms. Your dentist can diagnose xerostomia by performing an examination of the oral mucosa and salivary flow.

There can be many causes of xerostomia, including:

  • Dehydration

  • Certain medications

  • Radiation therapy

  • Sjogren’s Syndrome

  • Autoimmune diseases

  • Smoking

  • Aging

How Does Xerostomia Affect the Body?

In the simplest sense, xerostomia affects the body by preventing the proper production of saliva. To understand how this affects the body, we will need to discuss the role of saliva in the body.

First of all, it is important to understand the various components that make up saliva. While saliva is mostly water, it also contains important electrolytes, mucus, and enzymes that help to keep the mouth moist and healthy. Saliva is important for many reasons. Not only does it help to keep the mouth moist, but it also:

  • helps to digest food by making chewing and swallowing possible

  • cleanses the oral cavity

  • maintains a neutral pH

  • prevents the demineralization of enamel

  • coats oral tissues to prevent injury

The average person produces 2-4 pints of saliva per day through salivary glands located under the tongue, inside the cheeks, and near the front teeth. When there is a decrease in saliva production, it can lead to many problems. These include:

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Problems with taste (dysgeusia)

  • Mouth infections

  • Tooth decay

  • Dry cracked lips

What Can I Do to Improve My Dry Mouth?

If you have dry mouth, there are a few things that you can do to improve your salivary flow and decrease symptoms. These include:

Staying Hydrated

First, it is important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Frequently sipping water and/or chewing on ice chips is a good way to keep your mouth moist and stay hydrated. You should also avoid beverages that can dehydrate you, such as those containing alcohol and caffeine.

Checking Your Medications

One of the most common causes of dry mouth is the use of certain medications. If you are taking any medications, check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if they may be causing or worsening your dry mouth. Unfortunately, it is estimated that more than 400 over the counter and prescription medications can cause dry mouth as a side effect. These include:

  • Antihistamines

  • Decongestants

  • Pain relievers

  • Tricyclic antidepressants

  • Diuretics

Of course, people taking one or more of these medications are at an increased risk of dry mouth. In some cases, drug substitutions can be used, however this is not always possible. Speak with your doctor for more information.

Using Mouthwash

Another great way to improve dry mouth is to use a mouthwash that is formulated especially for people with dry mouth. These mouthwashes are generally alcohol-free and contain mucins to help replicate saliva. There are many over-the-counter options available, so be sure to look for the American Dental Association Seal of Approval.

Sucking on Candies

If you are experiencing dry mouth, you may also want to suck on hard candy or chew gum to help stimulate saliva production. Just be sure to choose sugar-free options to avoid cavities, and look for the ADA seal of approval on sugarless gums.

Adding Moisture

Adding moisture to your environment is another way to help combat dry mouth. For starters, using a humidifier in your home can increase the moisture content in the air. This can be especially beneficial during the winter months when the air is drier. You can also apply lip lubricants frequently to prevent your lips and mouth corners from cracking due to dryness.

Avoiding Certain Things

There are also things that you should avoid since they will make your dry mouth worse. These include:

  • Smoking

  • Chewing tobacco

  • Breathing through your mouth

  • Using mouthwash that contains alcohol

  • Drinking beverages with alcohol or caffeine

  • Sticky, sugary foods

  • Salty, spicy, or dry foods

Oral Care with Dry Mouth

Taking care of your teeth and gums is important, especially if you have dry mouth. To care for your oral health, the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research recommends the following for people with dry mouth:

  • Be sure to brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss daily to remove plaque and bacteria from your teeth

  • Use fluoridated toothpaste

  • Schedule dental exams and cleanings at least twice a year

  • Use prescription-strength fluoride gel (talk with your dentist)

  • Use denture adhesives (if applicable)

In Conclusion

In this blog post, we have discussed what xerostomia is, how it affects the body, and ways to improve dry mouth. Xerostomia is a common condition that can cause many problems. However by following the tips above, you can help to decrease your symptoms and live a more comfortable life. We hope you found this information helpful.

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