A dry mouth occurs when you do not have enough saliva to keep your mouth lubricated and moisturised.
Everyone's mouth feels dry from time to time. It is when this feeling doesn't go away that you may have a problem producing saliva. Symptoms of dry mouth may include:
- A sticky, dry feeling in the mouth or throat
- Trouble chewing, swallowing, tasting or speaking
- A burning feeling in the mouth
- A dry, rough tongue
- Cracked lips
- More frequent tooth decay
- Mouth sores
- Bad breath
Dry mouth can occur when the glands in the mouth that make saliva are not working properly. Some common causes include certain medications, cancer therapy (radiation/chemotherapy), autoimmune disorders like Sjorgren’s syndrome, smoking and methamphetamine use.
Sjogren’s syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disease in which a person’s white blood cells attack their moisture-producing glands in the eyes and salivary glands in the mouth.
Sjorgren’s can cause dry eyes, dry mouth, fatigue and joint pain. It can also cause dysfunction on other organs, such as the kidneys, gastrointestinal system, blood vessels, lungs, liver, pancreas and central nervous system.1
Oral issues that can occur are dry mouth, swollen salivary glands, and an increase in tooth decay and gum disease. Conduct good oral hygiene procedures and see your dental practitioner for regular professional cleanings.
The only permanent way to cure dry mouth is to treat its cause. If your dry mouth is the result of medication, your doctor might change your prescription or your dosage. If your salivary glands are not working properly, but still produce some saliva, your doctor might give you medication that helps the glands work better.
There are a number of steps you can take to help minimise dry mouth, including:
- Sipping water or sugarless drinks often and during meals
- Avoiding drinks with caffeine, such as coffee, tea, and some soft drinks
- Using oral care products that will assist in moisturising the mouth
- Chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugarless hard sweets to stimulate saliva flow; cinnamon or mint-flavored sweets are good choices
- Avoiding tobacco and alcohol, which dry out the mouth
- Minimising spicy or salty foods, which may cause a dry mouth to become more sensitive
- Avoiding sugar and acidic foods
- Using a humidifier at night
- Dry mouth treatment depends on what is causing the problem. If you think you have dry mouth, see your dentist or physician to determine the cause.
- If your dry mouth is caused by medicine, your physician might change your medicine or adjust the dosage.
- If your salivary glands are not working right but can still produce some saliva, your dentist might suggest you chew sugar-free gum or sugar-free sweets to stimulate saliva flow
- Your physician or dentist might suggest that you use artificial saliva to keep your mouth moist.
- Try to stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of tap water.
If you have a dry mouth all or most of the time, it can be uncomfortable - and may have serious consequences for your oral health. Drying irritates the soft tissues in the mouth, which can make them inflamed and more susceptible to infection. Without the cleansing effects of saliva, tooth decay and other oral health issues become much more common. It is important that you take good care of your teeth and gums. Brush twice a day, and floss or use an interdental cleaner once a day to remove dental plaque and food debris from between the teeth where your toothbrush cannot reach.