Ever wonder why you sometimes have a dry, sticky feeling in your mouth and throat or on your tongue? Does your mouth ever get so dry that your lips begin to crack, or swallowing, talking, and tasting become difficult? There’s a name for that feeling: xerostomia.
The Role of Saliva in Good Oral Health
If you suffer from xerostomia, you realize how important saliva is, for keeping the mouth moist and comfortable—but what you may not realize is that saliva does much more than keep your mouth comfortable.
Saliva makes it possible for you to chew, swallow, and digest the food you eat. It controls the growth of naturally occurring bacteria and fungi to protect the teeth from decay. In severe cases, lack of sufficient saliva can lead to extensive tooth decay, sores, or even bacterial and fungal infections of the mouth.
What Causes Dry Mouth
Improper functions of the salivary gland, or xerostomia, can have many possible causes, such as:
- Medication. Dry mouth can often be a side effect of medications prescribed for high blood pressure or depression. (More than four hundred different medications, including leading chemotherapy drugs, can lead to dry mouth!)
- Radiation Therapy. Radiation therapy, given for cancer treatment, can damage your salivary glands and decrease saliva production.
- Trauma. Trauma to the head or neck can damage the nerves of the salivary glands.
- Disease. Some diseases, such as diabetes, or some autoimmune disorders, such as HIV/AIDS, or Sjögren’s syndrome (in which a person’s immune system attacks his own body), can affect the production of both saliva and tears.
What Is the Treatment for Dry-Mouth Syndrome?
There are several different treatments for dry-mouth syndrome, or xerostomia; the one that works for you will depend on what is causing the problem. You need to work together with your dentist or physician to identify the cause of your salivary-gland dysfunction before you can begin to address the solution.
If your dry mouth is caused by medication, for example, your physician might change your prescription or adjust your dosage—or he might suggest that you use artificial saliva to keep your mouth moist. If your salivary glands produce some saliva, but just not enough, then perhaps another medication can improve your salivary-gland function.
Your dentist or hygienist can teach you how to brush and floss your teeth properly and how to keep your tongue clean. He or she might recommend the daily use of a fluoride toothpaste to help fight the tooth decay that comes with dry mouth. In severe cases, the answer might be the fabrication of custom trays, which you would fill with a fluoride gel and wear for several minutes every night.
Some Things That Will Help Keep Your Mouth Moist
- Try sipping water or sugarless drinks frequently, especially during meals, to aid in chewing and swallowing, and possibly in improving the taste of your food.
- Chew your food very slowly.
- Avoid salty, spicy, and acidic food.
- Avoid frequent snacking.
- Avoid carbohydrates, like bread and pasta.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks, like coffee, tea, or some soft drinks.
- Avoid tobacco and alcohol.
Some Things That Will Increase the Flow of Saliva
- Eat foods that require a lot of chewing, such as apples, carrots, and celery, or crusty breads and rolls.
- Suck on acid-tasting, hard, sugarless candies.
- Chew sugarless gum.
If you suffer from dry-mouth syndrome, it is important to visit your dentist at least three times a year, to be checked for signs of early decay and infections. Don’t suffer in silence.
Left untreated, dry mouth is not just uncomfortable—it can cause serious dental problems!