Causes of Dry Mouth and How to Prevent It

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Dry mouth might sound like a temporary affliction relating to thirst, but it’s actually a medical condition called xerostomia, which results from a decrease in saliva production. While dry mouth is common and may feel like not much more than a nuisance, it can have a major impact on the health of your teeth. Saliva neutralizes bacterial acids, limits bacterial growth, and washes away food particles, making it integral to prevention of tooth decay. So if you’ve been feeling like your mouth is constantly full of cotton balls, it’s probably time to call your dentist. But first, here’s a primer on the condition.

What causes dry mouth?

The disruption of saliva production is often a side effect of medications such as anti-depressants, decongestants, muscle relaxers, strong pain relievers, antihistamines, and many others. But there are other factors that directly affect the salivary glands, including:

  • Chemotherapy drugs, which temporarily change the nature of saliva and the amount produced
  • Nerve damage from an injury or surgery involving the head and neck area
  • Tobacco use, both smoking and chewing
  • Other drug use, including methamphetamines and marijuana

What other symptoms are present?

Dryness in the mouth is the most noticeable symptom of xerostomia, but patients also complain of a dry throat, thick and stringy saliva, bad breath, an altered sense of taste, and difficulty chewing, swallowing, and speaking.

What can happen if dry mouth isn’t treated?

Insufficient saliva production can affect the entire mouth, resulting in cracked lips, a “coated” tongue, sores inside the mouth and at the corners of the lips, or even fungal infections. Serious dental conditions are a primary concern, including increased plaque, tooth decay, and gum disease.

How do you prevent dry mouth?

If your condition is the side effect of a medication, check with your prescribing doctor to see if there is an alternative medication available. If not—or if your dry mouth has a different underlying cause—there are ways to minimize dry mouth and in many cases prevent the effects entirely:

  • Drink plenty of water to keep your mouth moist and to loosen mucus, preferably sipping throughout the day (carry a bottle of water with you whenever possible).
  • Suck on sugar-free hard candies or chew sugarless gum (containing xylitol), which stimulates saliva production.
  • Moisten food with broths, sauces, soups, gravy, creams, and butter (in moderation, of course), and eat soft, moist foods at room temperature.
  • Avoid salty foods, dry foods, and foods and beverages with high sugar content.
  • Avoid alcoholic and caffeinated drinks—both of which dry out the mouth and act as diuretics—as well as acidic beverages like fruit juices.
  • If you have dry mouth, it’s also a good idea to decrease the likelihood of resulting dental problems by maintaining strict oral hygiene (brush with fluoride toothpaste, floss daily, and visit your dentist at least twice a year).

Think you may have dry mouth? Come see us.

If you suffer from dry mouth, regardless of the cause, we may be able to recommend artificial saliva products that are specially formulated for dry mouth. But we’ll need to see you first.  At Soft Touch Dental in San Diego, your total oral health is our number one priority, and we’ll do everything we can to keep you comfortable while you’re in our care. If you have questions about dry mouth or any of our general and cosmetic dentistry services, we’re happy to answer them. And in case you’re anxious about visiting the dentist, we also offer sedation dentistry, so give us a call today!