Are you spitless? Xerostomia, better known as dry mouth, has some pretty scary side effects.

Scare me spitless? Well, no, not really. Xerostomia (zeer-o-STOE-me-uh) has nothing to do with a scary horror film. It does have everything to do with being nothing more than a nuisance to being a scary condition. Dry mouth negatively impacts your overall health, the health of your teeth, your appetite and your ability to enjoy food. Your need for spit is real, people! Let’s address the symptoms, causes, complications and treatment of xerostomia.

Xerostomia Defined

Xerostomia is a common problem better known as dry mouth. About 10% of all people are affected by dry mouth, and it seems to be more prevalent in women. It is most often caused as a side effect of taking medication.

Saliva plays an important role in your mouth. Here are some of the benefits of saliva:

  • Helps prevent tooth decay
  • Neutralizes acids produced by bacteria in your mouth
  • Limits bacterial growth
  • Washes away food particles
  • Makes food easier to swallow and helps you taste your food
  • Contains enzymes to aid in digestion

Symptoms of Dry Mouth

You may have dry mouth if you have the following symptoms:

  • Mouth and throat are dry
  • Hoarse quite often
  • Have a persistent cough
  • Saliva seems thick and stringy
  • Thirsty a lot of the time
  • Drink a lot just to be able to swallow
  • Have bad breath
  • Speaking, chewing and swallowing is difficult
  • Sense of taste has diminished
  • Wearing dentures is difficult
  • Lips are chapped or cracked
  • Develop cavities more frequently
  • Have red, bleeding gums, gingivitis and periodontitis
  • Eyes are dry
  • Nasal passages are dry
  • Mouth, tongue or throat have a burning or tingling sensation
  • Gums are pale
  • Have headaches or dizziness
  • Teeth are decaying around the gum line or on the root surfaces

Are you noticing these dry mouth signs and symptoms most or all of the time? If you are, schedule an appointment with us today. Call Davis Dental at (307) 634-3488.

Causes of Dry Mouth

There are a lot of things that can cause dry mouth.

  • Medications, including many over-the-counter drugs, are the number one cause of dry mouth. Taking medication can decrease the amount of saliva produced by the salivary glands in your mouth creating an unusually dry mouth. There are over 400 commonly used medications that can cause dry mouth.
  • Aging doesn’t necessarily cause dry mouth, but seniors are more likely to take medications that may cause it. They’re also more likely to have other health conditions that can cause dry mouth.
  • Chemotherapy drugs and radiation treatments (to your head and neck) can change the nature of saliva and the amount of saliva a body produces.
  • Nerve damage to your head and neck area can result in dry mouth.
  • Snoring and breathing with your mouth open can contribute to dry mouth.
  • Smoking or chewing tobacco can increase dry mouth symptoms and many other oral health complications.
  • Methamphetamine use can cause severe dry mouth and the condition known as “meth mouth.”

Complications Associated With Xerostomia

If you develop dry mouth, it is important to see your dentist right away. You could develop the following complications associated with xerostomia:

  • Permanent mouth and throat disorders
  • More plaque, tooth decay and gum disease (“What’s In Your Mouth?” explains more about gum disease)
  • Mouth ulcers and sores
  • Fungal infection in your mouth
  • Coated tongue
  • Sores or split skin at the corners of your mouth
  • Cracked lips
  • Malnutrition

Treatment Of Dry Mouth

Treatment of dry mouth depends on the cause. There are four categories of treatment for dry mouth: saliva preservation, saliva substitution, saliva stimulation, and prevention of caries and Candida infection.

  1. Saliva preservation

Keep oral tissues as moist as possible and limit things that can dry out your mouth. Try to breathe through your nose as much as possible. Limit breathing through your mouth. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and tobacco. Use a humidifier especially while sleeping. Don’t use over-the-counter antihistamines or decongestants. These medicines can dry out your mouth.

  1. Saliva substitution

There are many ways to help replace the moisture that your saliva isn’t providing. Drink water more frequently, especially while eating. Suck on ice chips throughout the day. Use a mouthwash that doesn’t contain alcohol. Biotene is a great mouthwash for dry mouth. Use artificial over-the-counter saliva substitutes and oral lubricants containing glycerin. None of these suggested substitutions will cure xerostomia, but they will provide some relief.

  1. Saliva stimulation

Chewing helps stimulate salivary flow. Spry Gum is a great gum choice to stimulate saliva. It  is sweetened with a natural sweetener called xylitol. Xylitol doesn’t allow bacteria to stick to your teeth which means bacteria can’t colonize in your mouth. Because they can’t thrive, they can’t produce acid, which causes tooth decay and cavities. Using gum or candies that contain sugar places you at a greater risk for developing cavities. Medications such as pilocarpine (Salagen) and cevimeline (Evoxac) can help increase salivary flow. (If you have asthma or glaucoma, let Dr. Davis know. You should not take pilocarpine or cevimeline).

  1. Prevention of caries and Candida infection

Cavities, gingivitis, periodontal disease and fungal infections are common complications of dry mouth. Because dry mouth makes plaque difficult to control, meticulous oral hygiene on a daily basis becomes essential in preventing these complications.

Eat a diet that is low in simple sugars and avoid foods that turn into sugar when eaten. Use fluoride treatments daily and anti-microbial rinses to fight dry mouth and its effects on your teeth and tissues. Try prescription toothpastes to protect and re-mineralize your teeth where necessary. Visit Dr. Davis frequently. Visiting your dentist often is necessary to help manage complications. Fungal infections such as thrush (oral candidiasis) may require topical anti-fungal treatments. Dentures can harbor fungal infections and should be soaked daily in chlorhexidine or 1% bleach.

Can Dry Mouth Be Prevented?

No. Only the side effects of dry mouth can be prevented. Detecting, diagnosing and treating xerostomia as early as possible will help you avoid the scary consequences of chronic dry mouth.

If you have dry mouth, focus on eliminating the cause whenever possible. If the cause can’t be eliminated, then keep as comfortable and free from caries and Candida as possible. Use the simple techniques listed above to stimulate saliva, substitute saliva and protect your teeth and surrounding tissues.

Xerostomia can impair your quality of life. Don’t let it. Call Davis Dental at (307) 634-3488 today. Schedule an appointment to determine if you have dry mouth and let us find the strategy you need to combat it.