Xerostomia, or dry mouth, is a condition that occurs when your salivary glands don’t produce enough fluid to keep your mouth properly hydrated, leading to reduced flushing of oral surfaces and possibly increased bacterial growth. In addition to a feeling of stickiness, dryness, or “cotton mouth”, this can result in bad breath, sore throat, and difficulty chewing, swallowing, and speaking.
Problems like mouth sores, cracked lips, and even infections like thrush can occur when you suffer from dry mouth. This condition can also affect your sense of taste, and for denture wearers, it may cause additional problems.
Even worse, a lack of saliva that normally helps to flush away leftover food particles and bacteria in the mouth can result in increased risk of developing serious oral health concerns like gum disease and tooth decay, due to increased plaque and tartar buildup. It can even cause digestive problems, as saliva helps to break down food for digestion.
Naturally, you’ll want to treat dry mouth, or prevent it from occurring altogether. First, however, it helps to know what causes it. Here are a few reasons your mouth may be dryer than normal.
In and of itself, simply aging is not necessarily a cause of dry mouth. However, as we get older, it is more common to experience issues that could lead to dry mouth, including illness and the need for medications for which dry mouth is a side effect.
In some cases, the way our bodies process certain medications can change with age, increasing risks for dry mouth. Nutritional concerns can also increase as people age. The good news is that knowing these potential risk factors can help patients to avoid dry mouth or treat it as they age.
Illness and Other Health Concerns
Dry mouth is a common symptom of several diseases and health conditions. Patients who suffer from stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and a variety of autoimmune conditions may have issues with dry mouth related to their ailments. Dry mouth is a common concern for patients diagnosed with HIV and AIDS.
Snoring and sleep apnea can also contribute to the onset of dry mouth. Unfortunately, dry mouth connected to illnesses and other health concerns can be difficult or even impossible to reverse. That said, this symptom can still be treated to avoid more serious oral health concerns.
Trauma to the mouth can result in all kinds of issues, including oral pain and even tooth loss, depending on the severity of an accident, or alternately, side effects of surgery. If nerve damage occurs, oral trauma could also cause dry mouth.
One of the most common causes of dry mouth is the use of medication. Many prescription medications list dry mouth as a potential side effect, and it is particularly common to cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation (especially in the head and neck areas). The use of some recreational drugs (such as marijuana and methamphetamine) may produce dry mouth, as well.
The many harmful side effects of tobacco use are fairly well understood at this point, and one of the most common is dry mouth. If you already suffer from dry mouth, using tobacco products like cigarettes or chew can also cause symptoms to worsen.
Excessive Use of Mouthwash
Using mouthwash is generally a good thing – in addition to brushing and flossing, rinsing with mouthwash is a great way to remove food and bacteria that may linger in hard-to-reach areas of the mouth like between the teeth and under the gum line. Unfortunately, many mouthwash products contain alcohol, and this can have the unintended side effect of causing dry mouth.
The simple solution is to use a mouthwash that has no alcohol, and perhaps even one designed to hydrate the mouth and prevent dry mouth. In fact, this is a great option for anyone suffering from dry mouth. Brands like Biotene and ACT have products designed specifically to treat dry mouth symptoms while helping to flush away harmful bacteria that could lead to gum disease and tooth decay.
The best way to avoid or treat dry mouth is to practice proper oral hygiene and see your dentist regularly for checkup and cleaning. This way you can not only prevent the spread of harmful bacteria, but also catch secondary conditions like gum disease or tooth decay early.