What is Dry Mouth?

Posted by on 5 February 2014 | Comments

Dry mouth (or xerostomia) affects at least one in five adults. It happens when there is a lack of saliva, or spit, in the mouth. This is usually because your salivary glands aren't working properly.

Its easy to take saliva for granted but it has lots of important roles in the mouth - moistening food and so making it easier to chew and swallow, helping kick start our digestive processes, protecting teeth from decay and helping sores to heal.  

What are the symptoms of dry mouth?

While lots of us may experience a dry mouth occassionally, some people suffer all the time.   It not only feels unpleasant but it can affect quality of life. Symptoms can include:

  • A dry or sticky feeling in the mouth
  • Thick, stringy saliva
  • A painful or burning sensation affecting the mouth and tongue
  • Dry, cracked painful lips
  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty in eating - especially with dry foods such as cereals
  • Difficulty in swallowing or speaking
  • Discomfort when wearing dentures
  • Feeling thirsty - especially at night

 What causes dry mouth?

There are many different causes including diseases of the salivary glands such as Sjogren's syndrome (where the body's immune system attacks the salivary glands) and sarcoidosis (a disease causing inflammation of the body's tissues), some cancer treatments, dehydration (seen in people with diabetes or kidney problems) and anxiety.

Medicines can also cause dry mouth - perhaps surprisingly, over 400 different drugs have this as a possible side effect. The more medicines some one takes, the greater the chance they will suffer.  Some common medicines include :

  • Antidepressants
  • Certain heart medicines
  • Drugs to manage mental illness
  • Drugs for epilpesy
  • Anti-sickness medcines
  • Antihistamines - in some allergy treatments but also some sleep aids
  • Srong pain relivers such as morphine 

If you are taking several medicines at a time and you are suffering from dry mouth, you may want to discuss it with your doctor or pharmacist. They may not be aware how dry mouth affects you and can review your medication.

Useful Advice

Keep your mouth moist

  • Drink cold, unsweetened drinks such as water or sugar free soft drinks.Try to drink at least 1.5ltrs of fluid each day - taking regular small sips.
  • Take frequent sips or sprays of cold water, ice cubes or sugar free ice lollies
  • Use a humidfier at night to keep the air moist

Stimulate saliva

  • Suck sugar free boiled sweets, pastilles or mints and chew sugar free gum

Things to avoid

  • Coffee, tea, caffeinated soft drinks, alcohol, smoking
  • Hot dry environments
  • Acidic drinks e.g. orange or grapefruit juice

Make foods easier to eat

  • Use gravies, sauces or yoghurt to moisten food
  • Eat foods that contain a lot of fluid such as fruits, jelly, pureed fruits and soft puddings
  • Avoid things like crackers that can dry your mouth
  • Avoid dry or hard things that could graze your mouth
  • Avoid salty or spicy foods as these can irritate an already sensitive mouth
  • Steam vegetables until they are soft

What else?

Having a dry mouth can affect your teeth and encourage tooth decay.  

  • Brush your teeth with a soft toothbrush after meals and at bedtime - use a soft-bristled brush
  • Floss twice a day
  • Use a SLS (sodium lauryl sulphate) free toothpaste with a gentle formula
  • Avoid alcohol mouthwashes as these can dry your mouth out
  • Avoid sweet sugary foods 

Come and see us. Our dentists and hygienists can give you advice on how to look after your teeth and we stock a range of Biotene products - products specifically designed to help with dry mouth. Thanks to Biotene for the advice in this blog.