February 3, 2010

Dry Mouth

About one third of the U. S. population suffers from dry mouth syndrome, a painful condition resulting from inadequate saliva flow in the mouth due to improperly functioning salivary glands. Also known as xerostomia, dry mouth most commonly affects older adults: about thirty percent of those over sixty-five suffer from dry mouth. Because saliva lubricates oral tissues, prepares food to be digested, washes away food particles in the teeth, and neutralizes harmful acids in the mouth produced by plaque, reduced salivary flow may result in the growth of harmful bacteria. If left untreated, dry mouth can lead to serious dental and medical issues including cavities, gum disease, and chronic discomfort. Anyone suffering from dry mouth syndrome should consult his or her dentist as soon as the symptoms appear.

Causes of Dry Mouth Syndrome

Dry mouth can develop as a side effect of more than four hundred types of prescription and over-the-counter medications. The most common culprits are antihistamines, antidepressants, antihypertensives, decongestants, pain killers, tranquilizers, muscle relaxants, and diuretics. High blood pressure medication and drugs for urinary incontinence and Parkinson’s disease may also result in a drying of the mouth. Certain medical disorders can also cause reduced saliva flow, including AIDS, diabetes, or Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease whereby the body’s white blood cells attack moisture-producing glands in the body. Dry mouth may also occur as a result of severe stress, a deeply upsetting experience, hormonal changes, or radiation treatment for certain cancers of the head and neck. Stroke victims and Alzheimer’s patients may also experience dry mouth.

Symptoms of Dry Mouth

Common symptoms of dry mouth include bad breath, thick or stringy saliva, chronic sore throat, an altered sense of taste, a burning sensation in the mouth, a rough, parched tongue, and difficulty speaking, eating, or swallowing. Oral yeast infections may also occur, as well as increased plague production, cracked lips, sores in the mouth, or dry nasal passages. Denture-wearers may also experience pain while wearing their dentures.

Dry Mouth Syndrome and One’s Health

Dry mouth, if left untreated, can have a profound negative effect on the oral health of its sufferers, including dental decay, cavities, and gum disease. Dryness in the mouth irritates the soft tissues, leading to inflammation and a greater susceptibility to infection. In addition to the possibility of severe damage to the teeth, the lack of saliva in the mouth may cause problems for asthma patients who rely on oral inhalers. Because these patients may develop oral candidiasis, an oral fungal infection, dentists encourage them to rinse their mouths thoroughly with water after each use.

Relief from Dry Mouth Syndrome

Dry mouth sufferers can seek relieve from a variety of sources. Sugar-free gum or hard candies can stimulate saliva flow. In addition, oral rinses and artificial saliva can provide some relief. Patients can also ask their dentists about the application of dental sealants, which cover the chewing surfaces of the teeth and thus prevent cavities. The most advanced sealants contain fluoride and antibacterial agents for additional protection against sealants. More common relief may come from brushing and flossing twice a day, avoiding alcohol, caffeine, smoking, acidic juices, and dry foods such as toast or crackers, drinking plenty of water, and drinking plenty of water. Recent studies indicate that acupuncture may also ease discomfort.