Dry Mouth – Don’t Ignore It

According to most healthcare professionals, saliva is a very important part of a healthy body. But what happens when we don’t have enough of it? fit family with water bottle after exerciseMany of us have experienced that uncomfortable feeling of “cotton-mouth” or dry mouth from time to time. Known to medical experts as xerostomia, this condition arises from not having enough saliva to keep the mouth moist. This condition can happen to anyone, especially during periods of stress and anxiety, but if it persists, it can make chewing, eating, swallowing and even talking difficult.  Since saliva helps keep germs that cause cavities and other oral infections in check, when left untreated, dry mouth can also lead to tooth decay.

The Benefits of Saliva

Comprised mostly of water, saliva also contains important substances that your body needs to digest food and keep your teeth strong.

According to WebMD.com, other benefits of saliva include:

  • Keeping your mouth moist and comfortable
  • Helping to chew, taste, and swallow
  • Fighting germs in your mouth and preventing bad breath
  • Provides proteins and minerals that protect tooth enamel and prevents tooth decay and gum disease
  • Helps keep dentures securely in place

Symptoms

Common symptoms can include a sticky, dry feeling in the mouth, accompanied by frequent thirst and bad breath. Sores in the mouth, split skin at the corners of the mouth, and cracked lips also occur along with problems speaking and difficulties with tasting, chewing, and swallowing. Dry nasal passages, hoarseness, and a sore throat are not uncommon.

Causes of Xerostomia

Dry mouth is common in older adults, although the reasons for the condition aren't always clear. Poor nutrition, the use of certain drugs, and diseases that affect the whole body (systemic disorders) are thought to play a key role.

Too little saliva and dry mouth can be caused by certain medications including drugs to treat depression, anxiety, pain, allergies, obesity, acne, high blood pressure, psychotic disorders, urinary incontinence, asthma, and Parkinson's disease can cause varying degrees of xerostomia.

Besides side effects of medications, xerostomia may be a result of certain medical conditions including Sjogren's syndrome, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and many others. Dry mouth can also be a result of chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cancer.

Smoking or chewing tobacco can affect how much saliva you generate and many aggravate dry mouth. Breathing with your mouth open a lot can also contribute to the problem.

What Should You Do?

Since xerostomia raises your risk of gingivitis, or gum disease, tooth decay and mouth infections, it’s important to talk to your doctor or dentist if you experience chronic dry mouth. Depending on the cause of your dry mouth, your health care provider can recommend the right treatment. There are also steps you can take personally to help ease your dry mouth, such as drinking plenty of water, chewing sugarless gum, and avoiding tobacco and alcohol.  Good oral care at home and regular dental check-ups will help keep your mouth healthy.

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