Dry mouth, also called xerostomia, is when the glands of the mouth don’t produce enough saliva to keep the mouth, teeth and gums moist. While it may sound nice to have less saliva, this condition makes for a great environment for germs and bacteria to flourish and for cavity-causing plaque to grow. You see, saliva is the body’s natural mouth cleanser and breath freshener. Saliva not only moistens the inside of the mouth, but it also washes away bacteria and trapped food particles off from the surface of teeth and gums. The wetness also makes the surfaces of the teeth and gums more difficult for additional food particles to stick on.
When the mouth is dry, food particles, germs and bacteria aren’t washed away and will remain adhered to teeth and gums as well as in between teeth. When these objects remain in the mouth, they decompose and break down, releasing unpleasant odors and acid that lead to bad breath and destruction of tooth enamel, which can lead to cavities, tooth sensitivity and gum disease.
Dry mouth is caused when something happens to the saliva glands. The following are some common causes:
- Medications. Many medications, most notably those that treat anxiety, blood pressure and depression can cause dry mouth as a side effect. Pain medications, antihistamines, muscle relaxants, and decongestants can also cause a mouth to become dry.
- Old age. As we age, our saliva glands don’t produce as much saliva. Inadequate nutrition, other age-related health conditions and the use of medications also make the elderly more susceptible to getting dry mouth.
- Cancer treatment. Drugs used in chemotherapy and radiation can temporarily decrease saliva production. Some radiation treatment, however, can damage saliva glands in the head and neck, causing permanent damage and reduced saliva production.
- Nerve damage. If nerves in the neck or head are damaged due to injury or surgery, a dried out mouth can occur.
- Certain health conditions. Dry mouth can be caused by health conditions such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, HIV/AIDS, Sjogren’s syndrome, thrush and stroke. Snoring and constantly keeping one’s mouth open at night can also lead a mouth that is dry.
- Using tobacco and alcohol. Smoking or chewing tobacco and drinking alcohol can damage saliva gland, increasing the risk of a dried out mouth.
- Drug use. Using drugs including marijuana and methamphetamine can cause dry mouth as well as damage the teeth.
Depending on the severity of your dried out mouth, there are a variety of treatment options available. The most common ones include:
- Chewing sugar-free gum
- Drink plenty of water
- Avoid using tobacco
- Limit the consumption of caffeine
- Use saliva substitutes
- Use a humidifier at night
- Special mouthwash
- Breathe through the nose instead of the mouth