Dry mouth is a condition that can happen to just about anyone, at any age group and gender. Dry mouth, also known as Xerostomia, is a condition where there is a decrease in saliva formation. You have a feeling of dryness in the mouth. Leading causes of dry mouth are salivary gland disorders, systemic disease, radiotherapy, etc.

Its treatment depends on the nature of causes. Common treatment options are leaving bad habit like smoking, medications or possible surgery for treating obstruction in salivary gland, saliva stimulants, etc.

Let us have a look at the many causative factors, symptoms, and treatment of dry mouth.

What is Dry Mouth?

Our mouth has some glands called the salivary glands. These salivary glands are of two types- major and minor. Both the major and minor salivary glands secrete saliva in our mouth, which has many essential roles.

It keeps our mouth moist, bacteria free and hence cavity free. It helps in taste sensation, digestion of food and protection against ulcers in the mouth.

Dry mouth or Xerostomia is a condition in which the production or secretion of saliva is reduced, due to which there is a feeling of dryness in the mouth, and a continuous sense of lack of saliva is felt. It may be short term or long term, mild or severe, depending on the cause of deficiency of saliva.

Causes of dry mouth

Dry mouth is a condition that has a very diverse range of causes. It is essential to diagnose the cause of dry mouth to treat it. Some of the significant reasons for a dry mouth are-

  • Salivary gland disorders – Salivary gland disorders include tumors, cysts, stones or any obstructions in the salivary glands. They may also be due to some blockage in the duct that carries the saliva from the gland. (1)
  • Medications – Dry mouth is one of the most common side effects of an alarmingly large number of medicines, taken for a spectrum of diseases. These include medicines taken for depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, pain. Muscle relaxants, anti-cancer drugs, and many anti-allergy medicines also cause dry mouth. The effect of having a dry mouth may stop if the drug is discontinued, or it may linger on for a while.
  • Smoking is another activity that causes dry mouth.
  • Radiotherapy – Patients receiving radiation for treatment of cancer suffer from dry mouth. This is because the radiation affects the salivary glands. (2)
  • Systemic diseases – Dry mouth is a condition seen commonly in people with diabetes, those with degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome.
  • Stress, anxiety, and nervousness can cause dry mouth temporarily. We have all experienced this before an important interview, exam, or an on-stage performance, where we feel a certain discomfort in our mouths.
  • Nerve damage can also cause dry mouth, due to a defect in the transmission of impulses that stimulate salivary secretion.
  • Pregnant females may also experience dry mouth due to hormonal changes.
  • In severe dehydration due to diarrhea or vomiting, the person is likely to experience dryness of the mouth.

Dry mouth symptoms

  • Dryness in the mouth
  • Dryness of lips
  • Excessive thirst due to dryness
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • A desire to have water or other liquids while swallowing
  • Altered taste sensation
  • Infections of the gums, bleeding gums
  • Ulcers in the mouth, at the corner of the mouth, lips
  • Tooth decay, toothache
  • Burning sensation in the mouth
  • Thick and sticky saliva
  • Inability to wear dentures
  • Foul smelling breath

How to diagnosis xerostomia?

A clinician must correctly diagnose xerostomia and identify its causes, to successfully treat it.

History

A detailed medical and habitual history of the patient is crucial for diagnosis. This can help a doctor narrow down the causes as well as possible symptoms and complications of dry mouth.

Examination

The dentist does a thorough examination of the patient’s lip, tongue for dryness. The salivary flow under stimulated and unstimulated conditions is also checked.

Some investigations may be carried out to check for any stones or blockages in the salivary glands or their ducts.

Complications

Dryness of the mouth means decreased saliva in the mouth which in turn implies a series of complications since saliva plays multiple roles of lubrication, protection, digestion and so on.

Xerostomia causes increased incidences of decay, gum diseases, bad breath, and bleeding gums.

The overall resistance of the mouth is also lowered, making it more susceptible to fungal infections like oral thrush, or viral diseases.

Cracking and dryness of the lips, corners of the mouth may be present.

Weakness and malnutrition, arising from the inability to chew and swallow well, is a significant complication of severe dry mouth.

Treatment

The fundamental key to treatment of dry mouth is the determination of its cause. Once the doctor has ascertained what is causing dryness in the mouth, it is managed by the elimination of the cause.

  • If the dryness is due to a specific medication, a substitute can be found for it, or the dosage can be altered in consultation with the specialist doctor.
  • In cases where there is an obstruction in the salivary glands, or a stone or a tumor, surgical intervention may be required. If it is not very major, it can be treated using medications.
  • If the dryness is caused because of habits like smoking, tobacco chewing, etc. , habit cessation should be encouraged by counseling.
  • Dryness due to systemic diseases can be managed by the management of the disease itself, and usage of products to stimulate salivary secretion.
  • Saliva substitutes are artificial products that mimic saliva. These contain glycerine and can be given not as a cure, but as an alternative.
  • Saliva stimulants are products which stimulate the glands to secrete more saliva. These can also be given at the advice of a doctor.
  • In a very untapped but potentially revolutionary advancement, researchers are now experimenting with the possibility of gene transfer in a damaged salivary gland, to improve salivary flow. (3)

Home Remedies

Something a home remedy could do wonders in the dry mouth condition. Most of the following natural remedies could be done easily at home.

  • A person suffering from dry mouth should increase their frequency and quantity of liquid intake, to reduce dryness. However, one must avoid drinks with excess sugar or caffeine, to prevent tooth decay.
  • Keeping a small cube of ice in the mouth can also help to reduce dryness.
  • Other home remedies include chewing gums or sucking on a lemon. Lemon stimulates secretion of saliva. It is also recommended to use mouth rinses twice or thrice a day.

Final words on dry mouth

By now you have understood that a dry mouth can be quite an uncomfortable condition and can affect the overall lifestyle of a person. But an early diagnosis of xerostomia could help in faster recovery.

If the severity of the condition is mild then do follow natural dry mouth remedies as they have no side effects. Also, it is recommended to follow a doctor guidance for managing dry mouth condition.

Dry mouth or Xerostomia is a condition where there is a decrease in saliva formation. Causes are salivary gland disorders, systemic disease