Dry mouth or "xerostomia" is a by-product and symptom of salivary glands that are not producing adequate amounts of saliva. The buffering affect of saliva is important in the prevention of decay and gum disease. When the salivary glands are not functioning properly, and not able to keep the mouth moist, dry mouth is the result.
Not only does the incidence of decay increase with the presence of dry mouth, but also other oral health problems. Tasting foods, difficulty in chewing and swallowing, gum disease, and a condition called "Burning Mouth Syndrome" (BMS), all can be a result of dry mouth. It has been reported by the Academy of General Dentistry, that more than 1 million adults in the United States, mostly women in their post-menopausal years, are affected by burning mouth syndrome. As this persists, changes in eating habits, irritability, depression, and reduced desire to interact with others follows.
Numerous factors and health conditions can cause and contribute to dry mouth. The following are some of those contributors of dry mouth:
- Sjorgren’s Syndrome
- Radiation and chemotherapy
- Smoking and drinking excessive alcohol
- Stress and depression
- Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis
- Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
There are approximately 400 medications that may cause dry mouth. The following is a partial list of some of them:
- Anorexiant: Pondimin, Mazanor, and others
- Anti-anxiety: Atarax, Ativan, Librium, Paxipam,
- Anti-spasmodic: Anaspaz, Antropisol and others
- Anti-convulsant: Tegretol and others
- Anti-depressant: Prozac, Anafranil, Elavil, Norpramin and others
- Anti-histamine: Actifed, Benedryl, Dimatapp, Claritin, Seldane and others
- Anti-hypertensive: Capoten, Wytensin, and others
- Anti-psychotic: Clozaril, Compazine, Haldol and others
- Decongestant: Ornade, Sudafed
- Muscle relaxant: Flexeril, Lioresal, Norflex
- Sedatives: Dalmane, Halcion, Restoril
If dry mouth is severe and causes problems with chewing and swallowing, and you are taking medications in the categories above, ask your physician for dosage modifications, or substitutes. The treatment for dry mouth and burning mouth syndrome are similar. Treatment must begin with a thorough professional dental visit for cleaning and if needed, gum treatment and repair of decay in teeth. Proper home care is essential in preventing decay and gum disease since saliva is not present in adequate amounts to impede the presence and proliferation of plaque.
Other recommendations are the following:
- Over-the-counter saliva substitutes
- Oral care products to help with dry mouth
- Brush and floss twice-a-day
- Chew chewing gum containing xylitol
- Drink plenty of water by sipping it frequently during the day and keep at bedside at night.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine
- Avoid smoking
- Avoid spicy foods
- Avoid citrus juices such as orange, grapefruit, lemon, and tomato
Regular dental visits will help prevent any major problems such as decay and advanced gum disease due to dry mouth.