Dry mouth or known clinically as Xerostomia, may be much more common than most people think. Over 6 million Canadians experience dry mouth and many may not know it. Xerostomia can be painful with reported serious affects to quality of life. It tends to manifest mostly at night, especially in mouth-breathers. Dryness may cause chapped or cracked lips or cause a persistent cough, a burning tongue or throat, periodontitis, ulcers, sores, and inflamed soft tissue can all be results of oral dryness.
Patients will usually complain of soreness in the mouth, impaired taste, difficult or painful eating - especially dry or spicy food - and waking up regularly during the night. Without a sufficient quantity of saliva to wash food particles off teeth, neutralize acids in the mouth and battle the bacteria population, a person may frequently develop multiple cavities – especially around the gum line.
Causes of Dry Mouth
Drugs: An average of 1 in 5 patients are affected by dry mouth, especially women, seniors, and those using any of 400 commonly-prescribed drugs that list dry mouth as a side effect, including blood pressure medications, antihistamines, antidepressants, diuretics and many others.
Cancer Treatment: Xerostomia has been ranked as the third most distressing symptom of therapy for head and neck cancer. Surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy can all cause dry mouth symptoms, and sometimes the effects are permanent. Radiotherapy causes the most damage to the salivary glands. In the first week after radiotherapy saliva flow reduces by 95%, and ceases almost entirely within five weeks. Two thirds of radiotherapy patients who survive three years are still suffering from Xerostomia.
Disease: Dry mouth can be a symptom of several diseases, and is often seen alongside other reduced secretions such as dry skin, dry eyes, blurred vision and vaginal itching. Sjögren's Syndrome - a disease where the body's immune systems attacks salivary glands and tear ducts is one of the greatest causes. Other diseases known to trigger include rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythromatosis and sarcoidosis.
Diabetes is another common cause of dry mouth and hypo-salivation. This could be due to the body excreting water through increased urination, or from some underlying metabolic or hormonal problem.
What to Do
If the dryness is due to drugs, it may be possible for your doctor to advise you to stop or reduce their intake, or switch to another “less drying” medication. Recent studies have shown that drugs such as Pilocarpine (Salagen™) can decrease your sensation of oral dryness. Since people with dry mouth often develop fungal infections such as oral candidiasis, they may require topical antifungal treatment such as rinses and dissolving tablets. Dentures often harbor fungal infections, so they should be soaked daily in chlorhexidine. If the dryness is due to a specific disease, proper treatment of the disease will decrease the intensity of your oral symptoms.
The dentist can be helpful to obtain a proper diagnosis of dry mouth. The diagnosis will help in developing a plan for management and treatment. A low-sugar diet and daily use of antimicrobial rinses can help. Select a mouthwash that doesn't contain alcohol as they will only cause further mouth dryness. One great product to help relieve dry mouth symptoms is biotène product which is divided into two categories: moisturizing relief products and hygiene products. A person with dry mouth should see a dentist at least 3 times a year and have him/her routinely check for evidence of early decay.
Drink water more frequently throughout the day, especially while eating and rinse with water as often as possible. Chewing Xylitol gum can help stimulate salivary flow and combat cavity. Xylitol is considered to be a safe sugar substitute unlike many synthetic sweeteners. Also watch your intake of carbohydrates, like bread and pasta and cookies, etc. which tend to hang around in the mouth. Avoid or decrease intake of caffeine-containing drinks and foods. Do not smoke and avoid or decrease intake of alcohol and spicy, salty or very acidic foods.