Dry Mouth After Surgery – Symptoms, Cause & Management

Surgery, especially general surgery, comes with a set of unpleasant after-effects such as dry mouth, and sore throat. Also, you may have a sticky feeling in your mouth or experience bad breath issue after the surgery.

There are several reasons which can result in dry mouth after surgery. But most of them are temporary and gets corrected on its own after a short while.

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Read on more to find out how to deal with dry mouth if you had surgery or planning to have surgery in the near future.

What is dry mouth?

Saliva is very important in keeping the inside of your mouth moist and clean. It can also prevent infection by controlling the bacteria and fungi inside your mouth. (1)

Dry mouth or Xerostomia is a condition where the salivary glands in your mouth are unable to produce enough saliva to keep the inside of your mouth moist and wet.

There are several other reasons other than surgery which can cause dry mouth. These causes are –

  1. A side effect of certain medications – some prescription and non-prescription drugs like drugs for pain, allergies, etc. or muscle relaxants and sedatives can cause dry mouth as a side effect. (2)
  2. A side effect of certain diseases and infections – dry mouth is also seen in people who have Sjogren’s syndrome, HIV/AIDS, mumps, etc. (3)
  3. A side effect of medical treatments – people undergoing radiation therapy or chemotherapy to head and neck also suffer from dry mouth. (4)
  4. Nerve damage to head and neck from an injury or surgery can cause dry mouth.
  5. Dry mouth is also seen as a result of any condition which causes high fever, excessive sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, and blood loss.
  6. Surgical removal of salivary glands. (5)
  7. Cigarette smoking and tobacco chewing.

Why do you get dry mouth after surgery?

Surgery can cause severe irritation around your mouth and inside your throat. The reason for it is that general anesthesia requires a patient to be intubated and placed on a ventilator.

Your mouth is kept partially open to keep the breathing tube in place. It makes your mouth, teeth, and gums very dry. (6)

Also, the breathing tube extends to your throat and windpipe. The presence of a foreign object in your mouth is very irritating to sensitive tissues.

Women are more at risk of getting dry mouth after surgery as their airway is much smaller than that of men. It makes it more likely for the breathing tube to irritate the sensitive tissues.

Dry mouth is also very common after any dental surgery or dental procedure. It is because saliva interferes in the working of the dentist.

But to avoid such condition, your dentist can isolate the work area with cotton rolls and dry the tooth with an air syringe.

It makes the mouth dry that continues for a while after the procedure is over. Dry mouth after surgery is only temporary and doesn’t last for more than a day.

How does dry mouth make you feel?

The common symptoms of dry mouth include –

  1. Sticky, dry feeling in the mouth
  2. Frequent thirst
  3. Sore or split skin at the corners of the mouth
  4. Cracked/dry lips
  5. Dry feeling in the throat/sore throat
  6. Burning or tingling sensation on the tongue
  7. Dry, red, raw tongue
  8. Problems speaking or trouble tasting, chewing and swallowing
  9. Hoarseness
  10. Bad breath

How to manage dry mouth after surgery?

Dry mouth after surgery lasts for a short while and usually corrects on its own. As the effects are quite unpleasant while it continues, here are some steps which can help to minimize these effects –

  • You should sip water or sugarless drinks often and during meals.
  • Suck on sugar-free candy to stimulate salivary flow.
  • You should avoid caffeinated drinks or sodas.
  • Avoid tobacco, antihistamines, decongestants, and sugary or acidic foods and candies.
  • Try to breathe from your nose and not your mouth as much as possible.

What to do if dry mouth lasts long?

In some cases, dry mouth can last for longer than a day after surgery, especially in cancer patients. These patients develop dry mouth after radiation or chemotherapy to head and neck. (7)

In some rare cases, surgery can damage the nerves responsible for saliva production, leading to dry mouth.

If your symptoms are consistent with dry mouth and last longer than a day, consult your dentist or general physician.

Dry mouth increases the risk of gingivitis, tooth decay and mouth infections like thrush. The dentist can recommend artificial saliva substitutes and advice on other treatments which can help manage dry mouth in the long run. (8)

Conclusion

Getting back on your feet after surgery takes time, but the effects of dry mouth do not last for a long time.

They can be easily managed by following some simple steps like sipping water often and avoiding caffeine and sod.

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Dry mouth should not be ignored, and you should take proper care to manage it, as it can lead to dental problems like tooth decay, gingivitis, etc.

If the effects of dry mouth persist for a longer duration than average, you should consult a physician or dentist who can suggest an appropriate treatment plan to manage dry mouth.

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