Dry mouth, also called xerostomia, is a condition where the salivary glands in the mouth do not produce enough saliva. People may occasionally develop dry mouth because of feeling nervous, stressed, or upset. However, chronic dry mouth can be an indicator of a serious underlying health condition.
Below are some of the most common dry mouth symptoms:
- A feeling of dryness or stickiness in the mouth
- A dry, hoarse, or sore throat
- Bad breath
- Changes in the sense of taste
- Cracked lips and split skin near the corners of the mouth
- Problems swallowing, speaking, or chewing
- Thick or stringy saliva
There are a variety of conditions that can lead to dry mouth. Medications like antidepressants, antihistamines, antipsychotics, or beta blockers can cause dry mouth. Thus, people with certain allergy, hypertensive, or mental health problems may be more prone to developing the oral symptom..
Dry mouth can also develop in people as they get older but it is not ordinarily part of aging. Other causes of dry mouth include:
Saliva contains bacteria that produce neutralizing acids that help prevent tooth decay. It also helps limit bacteria growth, washes away stray food particles, allows us to taste things, and makes chewing and swallowing easier. Enzymes that help with digestion are present in saliva, too. Dry mouth interferes with these essential functions and can lead to serious problems with your overall health.
Treatment for dry mouth often varies depending on the severity of the condition. There are natural and medical remedies available to help individuals with dry mouth symptoms and prevent the development of more severe complications, like:
- Sores or yeast infections — like thrush — in the mouth
- Dental problems like gum disease, plaque, or tooth decay
- Problems eating and swallowing
Talk to your doctor if you find yourself dealing with a persistent case of dry mouth. They can review your medical history and take stock of your current medications. A doctor may also turn to other diagnostic tools — like saliva production tests and blood tests — to help determine if your dry mouth is the side effect of another medical illness.
Remedies and Treatments for Dry Mouth
Once a doctor diagnoses you with dry mouth, the next step is coming up with a plan to deal with it. Many remedies for dry mouth fall into several different areas.
Managing the Cause of the Dry Mouth
If any medication you are taking is causing your dry mouth, your physician may decide to adjust the prescriptions. That could include changing your dosage or switching you to a new medication that does not lead to dry mouth.
When your dry mouth is a side effect of another disease or illness, your doctor may recommend products to ease your symptoms. These could include xylitol-containing mouthwashes, artificial saliva, or moisturizers that can help with the dry feeling in your mouth. Your physician may also recommend behavioral changes and other home treatments, like:
- Chewing sugar-free gum to help stimulate saliva flow
- Limiting caffeine intake
- Regular water sipping
- Using a humidifier to moisturize the air
- Stopping tobacco use
- Avoid mouthwashes that contain alcohol
- Breathing through the nose instead of the mouth
Avoiding Tooth Decay
Your doctor or dentist may be concerned about the development of tooth decay. They might focus on encouraging habits and proposing treatments for dry mouth that emphasize better oral hygiene, including:
- Avoiding acidic or sugary drinks
- Using a fluoride toothpaste when brushing your teeth
- Using a fluoride rinse or gel before bedtime
- Going to the dentist at least twice a year
Using an Artificial Saliva Product
A doctor or dentist might recommend a specific artificial saliva product to help with the symptoms of dry mouth. They typically come in toothpaste, mouth, and gel forms. Prescription drugs are also available for treating dry mouth.
You should discuss all available options with your doctor or dentist to understand the potential side effects of the treatments on your health — including how the product might interact with any other prescribed medications.
When to See a Doctor
Make an appointment to see your family physician or dentist if you always feel as though you have cotton inside your mouth or experience more than minor daily discomfort due to dry mouth symptoms. A health care professional can make a firm diagnosis of dry mouth and determine the best course of treatment for you.