The dental term “xerostomia” means dryness of the mouth due to a decreased function of the saliva glands.

Causes of Dry Mouth

Dry mouth or decreased saliva flow may be attributed to:

  • biological aging
  • systemic diseases such as:
    • rheumatoid conditions (example: Sjogren’s Syndrome)
    • dysfunctional immune system (example: AIDS)
    • hormonal disorders (example: Diabetes)
  • neurological disorders (example: Parkinson’s disease)
  • decreased chewing ability- (this may cause an individual to choose a liquid or soft diet which tends to cause a decreased saliva flow)
  • surgical removal of salivary glands
  • radiation therapy – radiation can result in permanent damage to the salivary glands
  • drugs or medications – over 400 drugs cause dry mouth as a side effect. The more common drugs are:
    • decongestants
    • diuretics
    • antihypertensives
    • antidepressants
    • antihistamines

Signs and Symptoms

  • burning sensation of the tongue
  • difficulty eating, especially dry foods
  • difficulty with speech
  • often thirsty
  • difficulty wearing dentures
  • dry, cracked lips, especially at the corners of the mouth
  • impaired sense of taste
  • mouth odor

So What If I Have a Dry Mouth?
Having a decreased flow of saliva has some serious consequences.

  • Heavy plaque and food accumulations tend to occur with dry mouth (xerostomia). This can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. Saliva is the body’s self-cleansing mechanism. It helps remove food, debris, and plaque from the tooth surfaces, which helps protect against oral diseases.
  • Saliva also protects against cavities. It cleanses the tooth surfaces and neutralizes acids, and in this way, protects the tooth surface from tooth decay. People who have dry mouth (xerostomia) are very susceptible to cavities, especially on the roots of their teeth.

How to Control Dry Mouth:

  • Sip water frequently throughout the day and keep a glass of water handy at the bedside.
  • Chew sugarless gum.
  • Avoid tobacco, alcohol and foods high in sugar.
  • Adjust the air humidity in your home.
  • Use a saliva substitute – this is a commercial product specially designed to mimic the beneficial qualities of saliva and leave the mouth feeling moist and comfortable. Saliva substitute products are available at most pharmacies. Ask your dental hygienist to help you choose the product that is right for you.
  • Establish a routine of excellent oral hygiene.
  • Use fluoride – toothpaste, rinse, or gel ask your dental hygienist to help you find the product(s) that is right for you.
  • Dry mouth (xerostomia) can result in oral discomfort and can have serious consequences. If you feel you have this symptom, please see your dental health professional.