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Dry Mouth- How To Diagnose It, Causes And Treatment

13th June 2022

We all occasionally have a dry mouth if we are dehydrated or feeling nervous, but a persistently dry mouth can be a sign of an underlying problem.

Causes Of Dry Mouth

A dry mouth occurs when the salivary glands in your mouth don’t produce enough saliva. This may be due to dehydration, which means you don’t have enough fluid in your body to produce the saliva you need. It’s also common for your mouth to become dry if you’re feeling anxious or nervous as part of the body’s fight or flight response.

However, a dry mouth can also be caused by an underlying problem or medical condition. Common causes include:

  • Prescription medication – many medications may have a side effect of causing dry mouth. Commonly, some medication used to control blood pressure, antidepressants, antihistamines and diuretics are implicated.
  • Mouth breathing– Some people habitually breathe through their mouths due to a blocked nose, deviated septum, or enlarged adenoids. According to new research this may lead to increased risk of acid erosion, tooth decay and salivary gland infections.
  • Diabetes
  • Radiotherapy to the head and neck – this can damage the salivary glands and affect their ability to produce saliva.
    Sjögren’s syndrome – an auto-immune condition where the immune system attacks and damages fluid producing glands in the body. This causes dryness of the mouth. Special tests are necessary to diagnose this.

Effects Of Dry Mouth

Saliva plays an important role in keeping your mouth healthy by washing around teeth, lubricating our food, protecting the lining of your mouth and aids digestion.

People who suffer from a dry mouth may therefore lose these important functions. Effects of this may include:

  • a burning sensation or soreness in your mouth
  • dry lips
  • bad breath or mouth odour (halitosis)
  • a decreased or altered sense of taste
  • repeated mouth infections
  • tooth decay, acid erosion and gum disease
  • difficulty speaking, eating or swallowing

Management Of Dry Mouth

Dry mouth is managed by identifying the underlying cause and instituting preventative measures to prevent undesirable side effects

If caused by medication, your GP may be able to prescribe an alternative medication to the one you are currently on.

Lifestyle adjustments may need to be made such as frequently sipping on water to keep hydrated and also to keep your mouth moist.

Good Oral hygiene is imperative to prevent tooth decay. Your dentist may be able to prescribe special toothpaste aimed at strengthening vulnerable teeth.
Your dentist may also want to take regular x-rays of your teeth to ensure that no tooth decay is left undetected

Devices can also be worn to reduce sleep apnea which is also a known cause of dry mouth

How You Can Manage Dry Mouth

There are simple measures you can try to help keep your mouth moist. For example, it may help to:

  • increase your fluid intake – take regular sips of cold water or an unsweetened drink
  • suck on sugar-free sweets or chew sugar-free gum – this can stimulate your salivary glands to produce more saliva
  • suck on ice cubes – the ice will melt slowly and moisten your mouth
  • avoid alcohol (including alcohol-based mouthwashes), caffeine and smoking – these can all make a dry mouth worse

Saliva Substitutes And Stimulants

If the measures above don’t help, your dentist, GP or specialist may suggest using an artificial saliva substitute to keep your mouth moist. This may come in the form of a spray, gel or lozenge. Use it as often as you need to, including before and during meals.

If your dry mouth is caused by radiotherapy or Sjögren’s syndrome, a medication called Pilocarpine may be prescribed. This is taken as a tablet several times a day to help stimulate your salivary glands to produce more saliva.

However, Pilocarpine isn’t suitable for everyone, as it may cause side effects, such as sweating or headaches.

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