Every now and then one of my patients will complain that their mouth feels dry much of the time and that this feeling actually wakes them up at night. This is a fairly common condition called xerostomia and means, basically, that saliva production becomes decreased and the tissues of the mouth and throat become dry, tight and uncomfortable. Lips can crack and bleed, sores can form at the sides of the mouth, and it makes it hard to taste and swallow food. Even talking becomes difficult! Take heart, though, as I’m going to tell you about some things you can do to relieve this condition.
What Causes Dry Mouth?
Although most of us never think about our saliva production, we certainly pay attention when it decreases to the point that we can’t do, or do poorly, the things that saliva was designed to do such as:
- Starts the food digestion process
- Fights tooth decay
- Controls bacteria and fungus in the mouth
- Helps you swallow food
As I explain to my patients, there are several things that can cause dry mouth. These can include:
- Dehydration from not drinking enough water or from diabetes which causes frequent urination
- Medications you take
- Medical treatments for cancer (radiation and chemotherapy)
- Certain medical conditions like Sjogren, cancer of the head or neck, Parkinson’s disease, HIV/AIDS
- Infection in the gums or mouth
- Nerve damage that affects the salivary glands
- Smoking significantly dries out oral tissues
- Excessive snoring, mouth breathing
- Social habits – smoking, drinking, recreational drugs
What You Can Do To Relieve Dry Mouth
Although having a dry mouth is an uncomfortable condition, there are several things you can do to relieve it on a temporary basis as well as a more long-term basis. The first thing I recommend is to find out what’s causing your dry mouth and from there, a number of remedies can be tried.
- Medication Adjustment – if medication you are taking is causing your dry mouth, your doctor can adjust the dosage, or perhaps change to another medication without that side effect.
- Rx Saliva Boost – although I prefer non-drug treatments, your doctor or dentist can give you a prescription for a medicine that can help boost your saliva production.
- Artificial Saliva – There are several over-the-counter drops and sprays available at your local pharmacy. You can even get some of these from your dentist.
- Hydrate, hydrate – many cases of dry mouth will remedy themselves if you are taking in enough water to stay properly hydrated. Especially in very hot and very cold weather, you need more water and most people simply do not drink an adequate amount. Divide your body weight in half and drink that number of ounces of water a day. Be sure also to replace each cup of caffeinated coffee or soda with 1 cup of water as caffeine can dehydrate you by frequent urination.
- Chewing Gum – citrus, cinnamon, or mint-flavored gum helps stimulate saliva production.
- Stop/Minimize Bad Habits – smoking and drinking too much alcohol can contribute to having a dry mouth. If dry mouth is a problem for you, cut down alcohol consumption to no more than 2 drinks 3-4 times a week. Stop smoking – it’s fraught with health complications from head to toe.
- Humidify – many people with dry mouth wake up in the middle of the night so dry they cannot speak. Using a humidifier in your bedroom at night can help.
- Breathing Problems – blocked sinuses or a deviated nasal septal bone, can actually cause some cases of dry mouth due to decreased airflow through your nose. This causes you to mouth-breathe and can significantly dry out your mouth tissues. See an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor who can determine why you cannot breathe correctly through your nose.
- Protect Your Teeth – if you have dry mouth, you need to take extra care of your teeth as saliva helps prevent tooth decay. Without much saliva, your teeth are at greater risk for decay and your general health can suffer as well. Be sure to brush your teeth carefully, rinse your mouth out and use a good mouthwash to help fight bacteria.
Having had a case of dry mouth once myself as a result of medication I had to take, I know it can be very uncomfortable. However, you don’t have to suffer with a dry mouth. As I noted above, the most important thing to do first is to consult your doctor or dentist to determine what exactly is causing the condition. Once you know the origin of your dry mouth, finding a remedy, and/or a livable solution to it can be achieved rather quickly.
Jay Brachfeld, M.D.
Dry Mouth, http://www.colgate.com/app/CP/US/EN/OC/Information/Articles/Oral-and-Dental-Health-Basics/Common-Concerns/Dry-Mouth/article/Dry-Mouth.cvsp
Dry Mouth Causes, http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/dental-health-dry-mouth
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