Dry mouth, or Xerostomia, affects more people than you may think, approximately 10% of the Australian population, and it can have serious consequences, from tooth decay to trouble eating and talking. It can also be a sign of something much more serious.
What causes dry mouth?
Saliva is important in keeping your mouth healthy. As well as softening your food as you chew to help with swallowing and digestion, it washes away the bacteria from your teeth and gums and keeps the tissue in your mouth and the skin on your lips supple.
Your saliva is produced by several glands in your mouth and throat. If these glands fail to produce enough saliva then you will develop Xerostomia. The causes of the salivary glands decreasing the amount of saliva include:
- Medication, including those to treat cancer, heart problems and anxiety. In fact, there are over 500 medications that can cause dry mouth.
- A change in hormones, for example during the menopause.
- An infection of the mouth.
- Alcohol, tobacco or drug abuse.
- Trauma to the tissue and glands within the mouth and throat.
Signs of dry mouth to look out for include:
- Bad breath.
- Cracked lips or corners of the mouth.
- A dry feeling in the mouth and throat.
- Sticky, thick or stringy saliva.
- Tongue consistently sticking to the roof of the mouth.
- Dentures becoming loose.
If you're concerned that you have dry mouth, you need to see your dentist as soon as possible. At the least, dry mouth will cause your teeth to decay, but it can be a sign of a serious illness such as diabetes, Parkinson's, anaemia and cancer. You dentist will be able to recommend visiting a doctor or specialist if appropriate.
If your dry mouth is not an indication of something more serious then it can be treated by
- Changing the offending medication.
- Taking new medication to stimulate the production of saliva.
While you and your dentist work to bring your dry mouth under control, you should keep to a regular and thorough oral hygiene routine. Clean your teeth twice a day and drink plenty of water to help flush away the bacteria that your saliva is not clearing. Eating fresh vegetables, particularly carrots and celery, can help stimulate your saliva glands. Also, try to breathe through your nose rather than your mouth, as breathing through your mouth can exacerbate dry mouth.
Don't use a mouthwash, as these can contain alcohol which can make dry mouth worse. Try to avoid sugary and spicy food until your condition is under control. Caffeine, alcohol and tobacco intake should also be stopped.
A dry mouth can damage your teeth and be a sign of something much more serious. Don't ignore it, speak to a dentist, such as those found at Beaufort Street Dental Centre, about it as soon as possible.